EHS 2.0 with Digital Advancement: How General Electric is Digitizing Safety

Improving worker safety is a mission that never seems to end. Hazards in the workplace are always evolving, as are the gear, tools and methods developed to mitigate risks. Our understanding of safety in the workplace is also evolving: For instance, though it’s hard to quantify, we know that safety has a great impact on productivity. Nevertheless, according to Nationwide, 51% of businesses don’t have an Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) specialist on staff while 38% don’t offer any formal safety training.

Though wearable technologies, including body-worn sensors, heads-up displays and robotic suits, are being touted as promising safety solutions for industrial workers; it was only two years ago that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the highest number of work-related deaths in nearly a decade. The rise of fatal injuries on the job, however, does not mean that wearables aren’t ready for primetime or that companies aren’t using them. It means organizations are not yet leveraging these technologies to their full capacity as part of a larger, connected and proactive system for safety in the workplace.

There are, in fact, effective wearable safety devices today. According to Sam Murley, EHS Digital Acceleration Leader at GE, General Electric is exploring and deploying them in nearly 40 pilot and deployment programs around the globe: “These are things that can save lives today, the same way insulated gloves and hard hats do…These technologies don’t live in labs; they’re ready to go. The obstacles lie in communicating the value when in place and identifying new stakeholders to help drive broader adoption.” Plenty of GE-league companies are, at the very least, piloting wearable solutions—enough so that for the first time the EWTS 2018 program will devote an entire afternoon track to safety and training case studies. The devices range from simple sensor-embedded bracelets to VR headsets and partial exoskeletons, and cases are springing up across all sectors: In addition to Sam, speakers from retail giant Walmart and multinational brewing company Molson Coors will share first-hand experiences of using wearables to increase safety in their organizations.

A number of factors could explain why wearable safety tech isn’t exactly making waves in enterprise: Lack of awareness (a lot of the focus is around AR/VR), the challenges of choosing the right use case and gaining internal support and funding, the complexity of Big Data (translating raw wearable data into actionable safety insights), and even generational differences (Millennial business owners are leading the adoption of connected technologies for safety). While there is a lot of buzz around augmented and virtual reality devices for heads-up information, training and remote support (all of which influence the user’s safety); wearables that track employees’ physical condition and blend into their work attire are less glamorous and less obvious when it comes to showing ROI. Take something like location tracking: A simple GPS-tracking band coupled with geofencing could help keep employees out of known hazard zones, but how do you quantify that in terms of cost savings? More exciting tech like exoskeletons poses the same challenge: If you have 10 less injuries than last year after giving exoskeletons to a group of welders, what is the ROI?

When asked to give advice to EHS managers just beginning to look at emerging technologies, Sam Murley said “Know what problems you’re trying to solve and leverage what has been done in the past.” Taking that advice, here are a few recent initiatives at GE that provide not only example use cases but also best practices and a look into the future of wearable and other emerging technologies in EHS: In the very near future…we’ll completely digitize the way risks are managed…Workers will have a digital toolkit of wearables at their disposal as required PPE [personal protective equipment] as well as optional tools they’ll use to augment some of their work. As long as it doesn’t over-innovate the user and has data value, EHS in organizations could potentially get to zero quo.” – Sam Murley, GE


Working with and wearing robots:

Robots are increasingly taking over dangerous and repetitive tasks in the workplace. At GE, the choice between deploying a companion robot with a human worker and augmenting the worker with an exoskeleton comes down to “how hazardous the task is and how long you need the human brain involved in the process.” In the case of the dangerous and dirty job of inspecting a dark chemical storage tank, GE has been testing a 4-foot-long, snake-like robot made by Sarcos Robotics. Equipped with magnetic tracks, ‘Guardian S’ can slither up and down the walls of the storage tank and across the debris- and grime-covered floor, using embedded sensors in its head and tail to perform the inspection and share information with workers outside the tank. There’s no need to stop the operation or have rescue services on standby.

If you’re wondering what happens to the workers relieved of this hazardous task by Guardian S; they become the operators and decision makers or are otherwise reassigned to less dangerous jobs. GE’s interest in robotics is not about replacing humans but rather augmenting them, allowing workers to complete tasks in hazardous, inaccessible, and unstable environments without putting themselves at risk. Not only does Guardian S keep human workers safe; it’s also better and faster at its job. The human-managed technology can even be customized with features like magnets, boom cameras, and ultrasonic thickness sensors to perform tasks in a variety of work environments, from power-generation facilities to oil sites and wind turbines.

Sarcos Robotics also makes a pair of track-mounted robotic arms to help users lift heavy objects and is working on a load-bearing exoskeleton to enhance human strength. GE is very interested in wearable robotics to improve and simplify EHS and increase productivity across its operations. Along with other big companies like Delta and BMW; GE has joined Sarcos’ new Exoskeleton Technical Advisory Group (X-TAG), created to advance exoskeletons in industry. The technology has enormous potential: Robotic suits will match human intelligence and improvisation with machine strength and precision. Workers’ physical performance and wellbeing will improve; less manpower will be required to do the same amount of work; and workers’ compensation, healthcare and downtime costs will decrease.


A proactive stance on safety with AI & wearables:

When asked what makes a killer application of new technology at GE, Sam Murley replied, “When you have edge-to-edge systems that can protect the worker directly and push data from the worker and environment back to a system to intervene…Those are killer platforms and there are a few out there that we’re using right now.” GE began piloting such a platform in 2016—specifically, two injury prevention systems by StrongArm Technologies that combine wearables, data analytics and machine learning (AI).

GE workers at several sites worldwide wore ErgoSkeletons (like a cross between a smart harness belt and a backpack) while lifting and carrying heavy loads, performing repetitive tasks, and during highly complex procedures. These passive exoskeletons work by redistributing weight from a central point of the user’s body across stronger areas of the body or by supporting arms and legs during overhead work, thereby preventing back, shoulder, arm, and leg injuries while increasing product quality. The exoskeletons can be worn with or without StrongArm’s FUSE ergonomic sensor which tracks the user’s ergonomic movement through their data analytics software and provides live coaching via haptics for safer posture and physical technique.

In addition to getting workers to perform better and use their full body (relieving strain on the arms and lower back), the solution generates real-time data that can give insights into EHS at GE. With AI, GE managers can isolate problematic ergonomic areas and make preventative changes to the work environment as well as figure out which workers need intervention and training.


According to IBM and Cisco, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are created every day, and most of it is never captured, analyzed or used. Wearable technology can provide gigs and gigs of safety-related data but if that data lives in a vacuum, it’s wasted: “I think the most successful technology gives you immediate feedback while measuring some activity in the human body or environment and tying it back into a decision-making platform.” – Sam Murley, GE   

GE is taking a well-rounded digital approach to EHS, using wearable and other emerging technologies to digitize safety. Beyond robotic enhancements and ergonomic sensors; heads-up displays, VR headsets, lone worker management devices, hazard-sensing bands, and even drones are presenting EHS pros with new ways to protect and empower workers, make training more effective, reduce injury and costs, and enable data-driven decision making on both a micro and macro level.

*For more expert insight on how GE is finding solutions, setting up pilots and working through deployment issues, read our full interview with EHS Digital Acceleration Leader and EWTS 2018 presenter Sam Murley here.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, comes to Munich, Germany on October 18-19, 2018. CXOs, designers, developers, futurists, analysts, investors and top press will gather at the MOC Exhibition Center to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times. Apply to exhibit, submit a talk and buy Super Early Bird tickets now at www.aweeu.com.

 

*Image source: Sarcos Robotics

Making Your Next Flight Safer and Smoother with Wearable AR+VR

From building the actual plane to the in-flight experience, wearable XR (AR, VR, MR) devices have a role to play in multiple professions within the commercial aviation industry. Employees whose jobs affect every aspect of one’s trip, including aircraft maintenance workers and flight crew can make use of wearable XR technologies to ensure the end goal: A safe and satisfied traveler. Find out how XR might be used on the ground and in the air when you go on your next business trip or vacation:


On the Ground: AR for Assembly

Both Airbus and Boeing employ augmented reality (AR) glasses in the aircraft assembly process. Airbus workers follow plans directly in their field of view, superimposed on the plane’s interior during cabin installation. They use the same solution to check the accuracy and quality of their work (image recognition technology and artificial intelligence at work); while Boeing employees use smart glasses to view a heads-up, hands-free roadmap for wire harness assembly over their real-world view. In each case, AR functions to form a stronger connection for the user between textual or diagrammatic instructions and the real working environment.

Using AR glasses with software by Upskill helped Boeing save tens of millions of dollars, but it’s not all about money: By helping employees work faster without error, aircraft manufacturers can deliver defect-free planes to customers quicker. Airlines and other buyers thus receive faster-built, higher quality aircraft and parts that breakdown less often. Aircraft and parts engineers can also use AR and VR devices to collaborate on new designs from anywhere in the world, sharing and testing ideas and even simulating the assembly or installation process to foresee issues. New XR platforms are only making this collaboration easier.


VR for Training

After assembly comes maintenance: It can take up to eight years to train and license an aviation maintenance professional. This includes aircraft OEM mechanics and airline technicians who perform safety checks, prepare aircraft components for flight, make repairs, and more. While accessing real aviation equipment for hands-on training is costly and difficult, in VR trainees can practice skills in a realistic, accident-proof immersive environment with virtual parts and tools. For instance, a mechanic wearing a VR headset could walk inside an engine and examine its parts as well as simulate different repair scenarios. With advanced audio and haptics (like a haptic suit), the trainee could even hear the noise and feel the motion of the engine, better preparing him for the real thing.

A recent study at the University of Maryland found that people actually learn and retain information better through immersive experiences compared to using a computer or tablet. Enterprises are also finding VR to be superior to reading a manual, watching videos, or taking a lecture-style class. While not an example of full immersion, Japan Airlines used Microsoft’s HoloLens to improve training for its engine mechanics—in place of physical hangouts, trainees learned all the engine components by working on a virtual engine in mixed reality.

Learning by doing with AR is effective and cost-saving for training, as well. Aviation maintenance workers can learn on the job without risk of error by using heads-up, hands-free smart glasses to view fool-proof text and visual aids over their work. The technology can even validate each step of an inspection or repair to prevent errors. Static instructions can become interactive, with virtual arrows and labels appearing on top of real-life aircraft equipment, showing the user where parts and tools should go. The result: Faster training without sacrificing accuracy or quality = quicker maintenance, fewer flight delays, and happier travelers.

Once the engine has been overhauled, the plane is ready for service. Expensive and logistically challenging, pilot training is another opportunity for VR. In recent years, the burden of paying for flight school has fallen onto pilots themselves. The $60,000-$80,000 price tag explains why flight school enrollment has fallen in the U.S., leading to a growing shortage of trained pilots not all that unlike the troubling shortage of skilled workers in other industries. CAE forecasts that over 255,000 pilots will be needed in the global commercial aviation industry by 2027, yet less than half that number has even begun training. Some carriers and manufacturers are making efforts by sponsoring aspiring aviators or expanding their flight training services, but the cost and time is still too great.

For industries with large, complex and expensive equipment like aviation, VR offers the closest thing to hands-on training. Virtual reality, capable of simulating almost every aspect of flying, feels more real than many current flight simulators (essentially stripped airplane cockpits with screens for windows) and is adaptable to all kinds of scenarios. Rookie pilots can walk around the cockpit, interact with the plane’s controls, and even practice an emergency landing, with tactile feedback to increase the sense of realness and help build muscle memory. VR is already finding its way into flight training programs: Airbus, for one, has been able to reduce training time and train more people in limited space using VR to supplement training in real aircraft; while Future Visual created a simulation for Oculus which takes pilot students through the entire pre-flight process. And VR isn’t just for ground crew and pilots; cabin crew and even airport staff training could incorporate immersive tech, as well.


In the Air: AR for Guidance

The length of runway required for a standard aircraft to get off the ground can be calculated, but what if there are unexpected failures? What if the engines aren’t working to full capacity or the takeoff field is wet? Will the aircraft still reach the required speed for takeoff? According to Boeing, 13% of fatal aircraft accidents occur during takeoff. In fact, pilot errors, not maintenance failures, are responsible for the vast majority of all aviation accidents. This isn’t surprising considering it’s largely left to the pilot’s subjective opinion to determine a response when something goes wrong.

The problem lies in how information is presented to the pilot inside the cockpit. It’s hard to focus on flying when you have to read and quickly analyze the text on a bunch of small instruments and screens all around you. AR technology can display this information in a more intuitive format. For instance, with smart glasses, information like pre-flight checklists, step-by-step instructions, current weather and air traffic information, even a 3D graphic of the takeoff path can appear overlaid in a pilot’s vision before takeoff. Aero Glass actually has a solution that displays flight path and instrument data to small airline pilots wearing smart glasses. The same cockpit information a pilot might get using physical controls and touch screens can be retrieved instead by voice command; and when a snap decision needs to be made during a flight, AI technology can pick out the most relevant information to display to the pilot.


XR in Flight Service?

The benefits of integrating AR glasses and VR headsets into aircraft assembly and technician training are tangible today, but at this point airlines have merely proposed ideas for using XR in the air without seriously investing. This is probably due to the consumer-facing nature of the in-flight experience. Providing flight attendants with smart glasses to interact with passengers or offering VR headsets as in-flight entertainment are not critical use cases like the need to quickly train thousands of new pilots. Moreover, the timeline for mainstream consumer use of AR and VR is still unclear.

XR hasn’t yet transformed the experience of flying, but some airlines are considering it. Air New Zealand, for example, had its crew members try out HoloLens to expedite and provide more tailored customer service during the flight. To cater to individual passengers, flight attendants might access their flight details (to help make connections), food allergies (to personalize meals), even their emotional state (facial recognition tech). Air France trialed VR headsets for in-flight, immersive entertainment; and though not in the air Lufthansa has used VR to sell upgrades to premium class right at the gate. Who knows? Maybe one day those safety instructions in your seat pocket will be replaced by a virtual reality video. In the meantime, rest assured that XR technologies are improving aviation operations behind the scenes, from the hangar to the cockpit.

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, comes to Munich, Germany on October 18-19, 2018. CXOs, designers, developers, futurists, analysts, investors and top press will gather at the MOC Exhibition Center to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times. Apply to exhibit, submit a talk proposal and buy Super Early Bird tickets now at www.aweeu.com.

Everything Enterprise XR Announced at AWE USA 2018

The scope of the Augmented World Expo is large to say the least—six tracks, a huge expo divided into pavilions, a Playground of entertaining immersive experiences, workshops, and more. As opposed to EWTS’ enterprise focus, AWE truly gathers everyone interested in defining and progressing the future of XR in every aspect of life; and BrainXchange was happy to partner with the show’s producers to help plan the industry event.

There were many announcements at the 9th AWE and some really cool tech on the expo floor (mixed reality backpack, anyone?) For our followers interested in the business and industrial applications of wearable XR technologies, we’ve separated enterprise from consumer in recapping the major developments (yet still beta in many cases) that came out of last week’s event:


Kopin

One of the most anticipated announcements was for the Kopin Golden-i Infinity: A compact and lightweight, gesture- and voice-controlled smart screen that attaches magnetically to turn any pair of suitable eyewear into an AR display. The Golden-i is powered by an Android or Windows mobile device – thereby offloading the heavy lifting – and can connect to apps using a USB-C cable. It’s intended for enterprise use and will arrive by the third quarter of this year at a price of around $899.


Qualcomm

Qualcomm revealed the Snapdragon XR1 Platform, the first chip specially made for standalone XR devices. The new processor features special optimizations for better interactivity, power consumption and thermal efficiency; and could potentially reduce the cost of entry for new AR/VR hardware developers. Qualcomm also released a reference design that has already influenced forthcoming standalone devices from VIVE, Meta, Vuzix and Picoare.


Vuzix

In addition to taking the stage alongside Qualcomm to reveal the new Snapdragon XR1, Vuzix announced a partnership with Plessey Semiconductor and a shipping date of June 1st for the Blade AR Smart Glasses. Both partnerships will affect Vuzix’s next-gen smart glasses (expected in 2019) by increasing processing power and upgrading the display engine. During his keynote presentation, Lance Anderson also called on developers to help augmented reality move forward by creating practical and entertaining apps for the Vuzix Blade, the first fashion-friendly smart glasses for both work and play.


RealWear

AWE attendees were introduced to the HMT-1Z1, the first commercially available, ruggedized head-mounted AR computer certified for use in potentially explosive work environments (ATEX Zone 1 and C1/D1). The intrinsically safe wearable computer presents no ignition risk, allowing all workers to go hands-free and take advantage of the efficiency benefits of the HMD, and will ship on June 15th.


eSight

SPEX, a new division of eSight Corporation, showcased its first AR headset platform offering “breakthrough enhanced vision” in commercial, industrial and medical scenarios that require precision vision. The lightweight HMD has no release date as of yet but has been described as comfortable, providing an augmented view of the world without obstructing the user’s natural vision.


Atheer

Atheer announced the latest version of its AR platform, which includes secure group collaboration so that multiple remote experts can provide live video guidance and support across the supply chain (think of manufacturers with multiple suppliers). The company also widened the range of business processes supported by the Atheer AR Workflow Engine to include dynamic warehouse pick lists, contextual task guidance, checklists, link workflows, surveys, and note-taking for seamless process documentation.


Epson

Epson released the Moverio AR SDK for its line of Moverio Smart Glasses, which adds new capabilities like 3D object tracking using CAD data and 2D image tracking to the former SDK. The update enables the creation of 3D content for Moverio glasses and can detect various objects from 3D CAD files (no need for QR codes or other markers) as well as track multiple 2D images on a 3D plane. Epson is accepting applications for beta testers to help identify bugs.


Kaaya Tech

Kaaya Tech’s HoloSuit, a motion capture suit featuring haptic feedback for full immersion, was on showcase at AWE. The MoCap suit with haptic tech comes in two models, a basic one with 26 sensors and a higher-end version with 36 sensors. As opposed to games and entertainment, Kaaya Tech sees its technology being used in physical training simulations for industrial jobs, factory line work and the operation of heavy machinery.


ODG

ODG demonstrated a working model of an AR oxygen mask it has been developing with FedEx. The mask, named SAVED for Smoke Assured Vision Enhanced Display, has a heads-up AR display to help pilots make a safe landing despite smoke filling up the plane. In the near future, ODG plans to offer the technology to civil and commercial aircraft manufacturers and pilots as well as the military.


ScopeAR

ScopeAR debuted a new AR platform offering real-time remote assistance and augmented reality smart instructions. The all-in-one solution combines Scope AR’s video calling app Remote AR and the AR content creation library WorkLink to enable increased levels of collaboration and guidance.


Toshiba

At AWE, Toshiba demonstrated its dynaEdge AR Smart Glasses with two new applications resulting from recently-announced partnerships with Applied Computer Services (ACS) and Ubimax. ACS’ Timer Pro Storyboard software for video training and the Ubimax Frontline application suite are now both available on the dynaEdge.


Meta

AWE attendees got a live, on-stage demo of the Meta Viewer, the first software application for the Meta 2 headset that lets users view 3D CAD models in AR. Currently in beta state, the app will save time and reduce costs in the product development process—everyone in the development chain (designers, salespeople, etc.) will be able to use Meta Viewer to collaborate and interact with 3D designs without having any special technical skills.


RE’FLEKT 

The company has added Sync – “the first software solution to automatically create edge-based tracking from CAD data” – to REFLEKT ONE, its suite of AR/MR app development tools. Sync is designed to further simplify the transformation of existing technical documentation and CAD data into AR/MR manuals and enterprise applications. With Sync, RE’FLEKT claims AR apps for maintenance, training and operations can be built completely in-house. Companies can save time and money and do not have to share their proprietary CAD and other data with a third party.

 

Image source: Wareable

 

The Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit (EWTS) is an annual conference dedicated to the use of wearable technology for business and industrial applications. As the leading event for enterprise wearables, EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. The 5th annual EWTS will be held October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. For more details, please visit the conference website or download the EWTS 2018 Brochure.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, comes to Munich, Germany on October 18-19, 2018. CXOs, designers, developers, futurists, analysts, investors and top press will gather at the MOC Exhibition Center to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times. Apply to exhibit, submit a talk proposal and buy Super Early Bird tickets now at www.aweeu.com.

Workplace implantables–Yes, we’re going there.

Are implantables ever going to take off in the enterprise beyond healthcare? Will we ever use them at work? Are workplace implantables a future reality?

Implantables are sometimes mentioned as a category of wearable technology, but is a future in which technology becomes more integrated with our biology, in which we voluntarily have technology embedded beneath our skin at work, possible?

Technological advancements have led to the miniaturization of both monitoring devices and power sources, but so far implantables have only really been discussed in terms of medical applications. Devices like pacemakers, insulin pumps, etc. are well-known; and doctors are exploring new Internet-connected implantables capable of capturing vital health data from patients and in some cases administering (drug) treatment. Outside of healthcare, what function might a tiny connected device in the human body serve for workers?

Chip implants have survived years of science fiction but they’re not brand new. The first implantable RFID chips for humans were patented in the late 90s. Today, there are only a handful of use cases of implantables in the workplace, specifically microchip implants for access control, payment, and security. There are isolated cases of tech enthusiasts and self-professed biohackers who have adopted chip implants for convenience or just to embrace new tech; and several businesses – mainly in Europe – are interested in the technology and have even begun implementing microchip implants to replace traditional ID cards and badges in the office. It is estimated that between 3,000 and 10,000 people in the world are currently chipped, but there is no record yet.

So, what exactly are microchip implants? Implantable microchips are mainly passive, read-only, non-GPS-tracking devices with a small amount of stored information that can be accessed by an appropriate reader. They communicate with reader devices over a magnetic field using either RFID (radio frequency identification) or NFC (near-field communication), a branch of high-frequency RFID. RFID is the same technology used to track pets and packages; and you probably already carry it in your pocket—most mobile phones today and many credit cards are equipped with the technology, and U.S. passports have been embedded with RFID chips to deter fraud and improve security since 2007. A simple microchip implant might store an ID code that’s processed by a reader to permit or deny access to a secured area.

Much of the fear surrounding human chip implants arises from misinformation, pop culture, and paranoia. The biological risks are no worse than those of body piercings and tattoos. In addition, the chips are compatible with MRI machines, undetectable by airport metal detectors, and not difficult to remove. People have been augmenting their bodies since ancient times and wearing pacemakers for decades now. It’s not a huge leap from having this technology on our bodies via phones and contactless cards to putting it under our skin to allow us to move around cities and offices with greater convenience.

Security and privacy concerns are natural. You hear the words “microchip implant” and visions of a dystopian future in which all of our movements are traced and bodies can be hacked to steal personal data immediately come to mind. While the privacy and ethical issues will likely grow as microchips become more sophisticated, today’s smartphones send far more information about you to Google, Apple, and Facebook than RFID implants can. Your internet browser history is a greater threat to your privacy, I assure you.

That’s not to say RFID chip technology is 100% secure. At least one researcher has shown that microchip implants are vulnerable to malware. Security concerns include eavesdropping, disabling and unauthorized tag modification, not to mention employee rights and religious concerns. Would employers abuse the tech? Theoretically, they could. Though the chips don’t store much information or have their own battery or power source (they remain inactive unless within the field of a reader device), it would be possible to use the data to learn about a person’s behavior. Depending on what the implants are used for, employers could see how often you show up to work, the number of bathroom breaks you take, the length of your lunch break, what you buy, etc. Most employers are already able to monitor such habits with company-provided smartphones and swipe cards. On the upside, it’s not possible to lose a microchip implant like you might another form of ID; but on the downside, you can’t claim that the data generated by the chip didn’t come from you.


How might microchip implants be used in enterprise and who is using them today?

In 2016-2017, a number of human microchip experiments and pilot (pet) projects received media coverage. DARPA, the research arm of the US Defense Department, said it was working on implanting chips in soldiers’ brains to enhance battle readiness, boost performance, and heal trauma. (Yes, that does sound very freaky and sci-fi.) There were also press reports suggesting Mexico’s Attorney General used RFID chips to enhance security but few details are known. The most traction has been in Europe, where even a chain of Swedish gyms has embraced the technology as an alternative membership card.

Epicenter, a digital startup workspace in Stockholm, began making NFC chip implants by Swedish tech firm Biohax available to employees in 2015. Of around 2,000 workers at the hub, 150 have been voluntarily chipped (as of last April). This is how it works: When activated by a reader, a small amount of information flows via electromagnetic waves between the implant and the reader. The main benefit is convenience: In addition to unlocking doors, the chips allow workers to share digital business cards with Android users, buy vending machine snacks, and operate printers with a wave of the hand. Outside the company, the implants can be used at any business with NFC readers.

The Swedish rail operator SJ simply made digital train tickets available to its loyalty program members who were already microchipped either through their employer or by their own choice. Instead of paper tickets and travel cards, conductors would scan passengers’ biometric chip implants, saving a few seconds. SJ expected about 200 people (of 2,000 reportedly chipped Swedes) to use the new, more efficient and sustainable service by connecting their membership number to the microchip.

The first American company to try Biohax’s grain-sized NFC chips was Three Square Market. At a “chip party” hosted by the Wisconsin company, over 50 employees out of 85 volunteered to be implanted. 32M runs vending kiosks in over 2,000 break rooms and other locations around the world. Ultimately, the company sees the technology as a future payment and identification option in its markets; and it could enable self-service at convenience stores and fitness centers. For now, 32M is testing microchips as a perk for employees—a multipurpose key, ID and credit card allowing them to open doors, buy snacks, log into devices, use office equipment, and store health information.

The appeal of implantable RFID and NFC implants comes down to convenience and minimal risk of loss. While the most popular application seems to be replacing physical keys, access cards and passwords for easy entry and increased security, other uses include identification and payment. Chips can also be programmed to suit a business’ unique needs. Unlock your smartphone, start your car, arrive at your office building and enter the parking garage, pay for your morning coffee, log into the computer at your desk, use the copy machine, share your business card with a potential partner or customer, store your certifications and qualifications, access a high-security area, turn on a forklift, even store emergency health informationall seamlessly, without friction, by having one tiny device implanted between your thumb and index finger. Would you volunteer for that level of convenience, for an easier and more secure way of opening doors and logging into devices?


Are microchip implants the future, another node in the connected workplace that happens to be beneath the skin? Biohax says it has supplied chips to dozens of companies and over 1,000 professionals in finance, healthcare, government, science and technology around the world. Most chip users today are involved in the tech industry, but the number of people experimenting with the technology is growing. (You can buy a self-inject RFID chip kit online from Dangerous Things. Warning: It’s not government-approved.) Then there’s Anthony Antonellis, an artist who implanted an RFID chip in his hand to store and transfer artworks to his smartphone; and Autodesk, who is experimenting with embedded sensors to turn human skin into a smartphone display. Grindhouse Wetware, a Pittsburgh-based biohacking startup, is pursuing powered implants—”subdermal devices in the body for nonmedical purposes” like a temperature monitor that can control a Bluetooth thermostat. Contacts allowing you to take a photo with a blink of the eye could be next.

In a recent survey, 31% of UK employees said they would quit if asked to wear a chip, so it’s fair to say that RFID microchipping of employees is still really far out. For enterprises who do want to experiment or ultimately adopt, here are some suggested precautions:

  • Make it optional: Implants should not be a part of any human resources policy or employment contract. It should be a choice, with the option to remove the chip and destroy its data history at any time.
  • Make sure it really feels optional: Assure there is no pressure to adopt and those who decline a chip implant don’t experience any disadvantage. Offer the same functionality perhaps in a wearable wristband option as 32M has done.
  • Make sure none of the information stored or collected is more than could be found in a smartphone.
  • Focus on controlled environments: Ex. An employee cafeteria. This makes everyday transactions in the workplace easier while reducing the chip’s usefulness to a hacker
  • Use a second security factor: Ex. Combine a cryptographic proof with a biometric option like a fingerprint or retinal scan. Add another layer of security with a Personal Identification Number (PIN) or facial recognition.
  • If the technology ever becomes standard or even required in enterprise, there need to be appropriate exemptions for religious, moral and other beliefs, individual health issues, etc.
  • Keep data protection laws in mind. Consider any information that might be collected or inferred from the data such as access info, patterns of use, etc.

Microchip implants remain a cool experiment on both sides of the Atlantic. There is no overwhelming need or demand for the technology in the workplace right now or for any other type of implantable device; but that doesn’t mean implantable technology won’t become socially accepted or shake up a few industries in the future.

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE,) the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Augmented and Virtual Reality, is taking place May 30-June 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Now in its 9th year, AWE USA is the destination for CXOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors and top press to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.

Photo credit: https://www.paymentssource.com/news/chip-and-skin-implantable-rfid-gives-payments-its-matrix-moment

Setting Up An Inventory System Is As Easy As 1-2-3…4

Written by Special Guest Bloggers Robert Seward and Steven Lewis, Co-Founders at Rendered Perception

 

Computer Vision (CV) and Augmented Reality (AR) coupled with Artificial Intelligence (AI) will create that step change for inventory improvement that you are looking for. A good inventory system is a byproduct of having a deep understanding of your customer. Through our years of experience, that means you must be relentless about delivering a great customer experience. If you truly understand your customers’ jobs to be done, you will innovate and hire the correct product. More importantly, it is about progress not just a static product or service. There are plenty of off-the-shelf inventory management platforms for purchase but creating the best-in-class experience cannot be pulled from the shelf. When building an end-to-end inventory system, it should be set up in a way to collect insights, learn, teach, predict and understand customer circumstances. We will describe how setting up an inventory system is as easy as 1-2-3…4.


Step 1. Pain points: Understanding Customer Friction

First, you must dig into all the pain points, rationalizing customer friction points. In creating any solution, we first fall in love with the problem. We employ a 5-D method: Discovery, Define, Design, Develop and then Deliver. Whether you have been in the distribution business for years or are looking to increase your value proposition by adding warehousing to your transportation outfit, pain points exist. Inventory is a function of storage and flow.

Pain points on the flow could be as simple as needing better coordination with your vendors on the receiving side.  Implementing something as simple as advanced ship notice (ASN) provides visibility to the transported inventory. Couple ASN with the product type and engineering standards provides earned hours for scheduling within a workforce management system. It is common to use inventory buffers against the variability associated with customer demand. It is critical to know what you have, where you have it, where you are going to need it and how you will provide it.  Yesterday, you needed inventory correct at your edge node (local unit). Today, you need inventory visibility across the enterprise in real-time to accommodate the different purchase channels as well as provide vendors visibility to collaborate. Even outside the normal business, when a weather event like a hurricane happens, it is critical for inventory precision. Having the ability to create a pop-up retail unit, dynamically shifting inventory to the nodes that matter, is a competitive advantage and delivers tremendous value to customers that need it the most.


Step 2. People Focus: Simplify Tasks and Activities

Inventory systems can be cumbersome, frustrating and complex.  We have known operators within the business that have a successful track record garner more influence on how the inventory flow and processes should work. The challenge can be having a holistic viewpoint of the pain points and job to be done. The operator has tremendous domain knowledge of the business and expects everyone to have that level of experience and execution. Reality is the system should be designed to the lowest common denominator. You cannot assume much of the workforce will be able to execute a system designed by and for an expert operator. The balance is how do you leverage the person with operational expertise with professionals in the inventory space and a sprinkling of tasteful automation.

If you get this wrong, you spend good money and time, yet employees end up fighting with the systems and the inventory is not correct. The natural inclination is to automate everything and hope the problem will go away.  There is no shortage of use cases that people can speak to that would make their professional lives easier. The challenge with that is automation requires very complex calculations, multiple streams of data and backend processes. You do not want to automate bad behavior. The cost to automate something that changes frequently is a waste of capital. Before automation, you should have very solid controls as a foundation when creating business requirements. People that design the processes have great intentions but cannot aggregate the complexities thus creating a mess. There are several case studies that illustrate the importance of identifying the right systems to automate versus enhanced workforce. There is a sweet spot on the automation curve that leverages labor expenses intelligently versus spending capital on automation.

Fun Math

If your inventory system is only 60% accurate, what is the math of your secondary systems and how accurate are they? If they are not perfect, you start to talk about fractions of fractions and your system collapses. Where you want to start your calculus is with a near 100% for your foundation (which is Inventory by the way people!), and then your fractions can start from there, preferably 99% or 100%’s all the way down so that it runs smooth. If your foundation is secure and running great, your secondary systems will take care of themselves so that you can focus your support and attention to more important things… like the customer.

Example: You order an item online and you don’t get it. Does the problem end there? The company has a 95% ship rate. If the customer did not get it, where is it? Where was the real-time alert identifying a break in the supply chain? Proactive versus reactive. Find and fix the problem before the customer realizes anything less than superior service has occurred. If there is a problem in the supply chain that cannot be addressed in a timely manner, the customer should be updated and informed before unpleasantly surprised.


Step 3. Process Focus: Standardize and Streamline Routines

You have heard the expression, “what gets measured, gets done.” Companies understand the value of simplifying, standardizing and optimizing processes. Creating routines and standard operating procedures (SOPs) aligns large-scale labor forces. The challenge is not in the set-up of engineering standards, working data sheets and frequency studies. The challenge is in the delivery of the training material!  No one appreciates the series of 4-inch binders containing outdated instructions on how to perform a task. Maintaining the binder content has evolved to basic interactive training videos. Would it not be easier to use Augmented Reality (AR) to do the training while the employee is performing the task? We have seen training that normally takes several weeks down to a few hours.

Once you have an AR-assisted solution available to help employees complete the task, you need to have a follow-up mechanism. Yesterday and today, you would have a small team of auditors or managers audit a sample of tasks. Does that audit team need to exist tomorrow? Could you build AR tools performing system-assisted inspection? You still need to inspect what you expect. Instead of auditing a person, you would be validating the results… a modern version of trust but verify.

Building an AR-assisted solution will not happen overnight. Good news, though, is you get notable incremental benefits along the way. Most approaches today start with taking existing systems to mobile. Then from mobile to head-mounted displays. Lastly, head-mounted displays to basic AR. We believe in starting with basic AR and rapidly iterating to more value-added AR. A 3-year roadmap could look like the following:


Step 4. Platform Build: Innovation, Automation and Analytics

Building the platform is the fun part. Integration is simply a function of inputs, outputs and transformations. Most people see and judge a solution on the merit of interface. The secret is not in the interface, it is in the data capture. Identifying the source(s) of data, building real-time systems to ingest the data and build a system to intelligently understand and then apply the data are some of the most important parts. This is not sexy but pays tremendous dividends. Please note we did not get this right the very first attempt. What kept us on track is we had a motto for when we reviewed our “final” solution design– Hate your design, continue forward and iterate tomorrow. We did a 3-month proof of concept that we could have easily spent a year on, but we would not have gotten through all our test-fail-learn cycles.

The diagram listed below is an oversimplification to the actual architecture design. A few notable jobs to be done based on our experience:

  • Capture lost sales opportunities – what, when, where, why, how
  • Workforce planning – based on routines, SOPs, engineering standards and dynamic tasks
  • Connectivity throughout the supply chain – anchored in the retail unit and worked upstream and downstream
  • Predictive insights – decision options, consequences, pros, cons

Streamlining everyday tasks, performing wildly complex computations, and having a personal assistant to talk AND walk you through exceptions should be a staple. There is a lot of work that goes into building out the technology stack, software configuration and use case prioritization.


Closing

The business should be made as simple as possible. We have built algorithms to create calculations to redesign direct labor out of the system as well as add capacity and increase accuracy. As part of the journey, we built backend processes to remove non-value-added time associated with set-up and wayfinding. In the end, we have always maintained the customer vantage point.

Inventory management powered by CV, AR and IoT creates an intelligent inventory solution. AR technology is here and unlocks a wealth of value added opportunity. If you truly understand your customers’ job to be done, you will innovate and hire the correct product. We fall in love with the problem. If you strive for the best-in-class customer experience, building an inventory system really is as simple as 1-2-3…4.

 

If you have additional questions, feel free to reach out to us on LinkedIn:

If you happen to be attending the following AR conferences, stop by and chat:

Attracting Millennials with XR: The Future of On-Demand Training and Continuous Skill Development

JRCS, a Japanese supplier of maritime systems, is the latest company to partner with Microsoft to test the HoloLens Mixed Reality headset for training purposes. Volkswagen recently became the first car manufacturer to go “all in” on Virtual Reality training for its employees across the globe. UPS, Walmart, Linde North America, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines—all exploring XR as a tool for training employees in lieu of lectures and slideshows. And it’s not just training; as we’ve covered extensively on this blog, organizations in nearly every sector are equipping workers with XR devices to assemble aircraft, repair equipment in the field, inspect vehicles, and more.

Why is this remarkable? Because workplaces are changing, and the workforce is getting younger. There is a reason some game developers are switching gears to enterprise content development—in just a few years, a generation raised on video games and technology in classrooms will make up 50% of the global workforce. There are 75 million millennials in the U.S. alone, all working age (roughly 18 to 35), and their outlook on life and work is very different from that of their middle-aged Gen X predecessors and the baby boomers reaching retirement. Millennials should matter to enterprises. They’re not just a group to be marketed to; they are desperately needed to fill over six million job openings in America, and they are essential to riding out the accelerating storm of disruption caused by technology in both enterprise and society at large. And yet, companies are struggling to attract, train and retain millennial employees.

Although millennials are the largest talent pool, they remain in short supply in some industries, especially the skilled trades. Companies are legitimately concerned about the growing skills gap but are using the same old recruitment and training techniques that are not aligned with the needs and values of millennials. And it’s hemorrhaging money: Last year, 45% of small businesses were unable to find qualified candidates for job openings, according to the National Federation of Independent Business. 60% of employers reported position vacancies of 12 weeks or longer, costing $800,000 annually between advertising and lost productivity.

Recruiting, onboarding and training a new employee is an investment—a worthwhile one if that individual becomes a loyal, productive worker but not if he or she is likely to change jobs. Millennials typically stay in a job for just three years or less. In a 2016 Gallup poll, six in ten (employed) millennials admitted they were actively seeking new employment opportunities outside their company. The yearly cost of such turnover to the U.S. economy? $30 billion. What do you do when your greatest source of skilled labor is also the greatest risk? The answer is not an open office layout or fun perks like snacks, pinball machines, etc. The engaged millennial employee is not so elusive, and millennials’ openness to switching jobs is not necessarily a negative quality.


Millennials’ attitudes about work

Advertisers have already started to turn away from Gen Xers and target millennials, so why not Human Resources? Imagine being in your early 20s. You grew up with the Internet and social media, had computers in your school classrooms, and carry your smartphone everywhere. You shop, socialize and entertain yourself with technology. How desirable would it be for you to work in a factory built in the 1970s or for a logistics company that still uses paper documentation? So, what do millennials look for in a workplace? Purpose, feedback, career development and, of course, technology. It’s not that income is unimportant to them (this is a generation of student debt and low wage growth) or that older workers don’t have similar preferences, but millennials have higher expectations for the sense of personal fulfillment they get from a job.

Millennials want to work for a company open to change, with fair managers who provide regular performance feedback. They want to feel a part of the brand and understand their work within the context of the organization’s greater goals. They are innately collaborative and eager to learn and expand their skills. More so than prior generations, they value an employer that provides excellent training and development opportunities; and 82% of them are likely to decline or quit a job with outdated technology (Penn Schoen Berland).


Digital natives and the declining life span of learned skills

Millennials are heavily influenced by technology. It affects their job decisions, satisfaction, and performance. They are always connected and expect instant access to information no matter where they are. It’s not unhealthy; it’s just how they learn and work best, and it makes them adaptable. Millennials are the first generation to enter the workplace with a better grasp of technology than most senior workers, but they’re also a generation that will require continuous skill development in order to keep up with the pace of disruption in industry. This means that in addition to filling their ranks with millennials and transferring knowledge from veteran employees to new workers; companies will need to make sure employees are able to upskill, retrain and switch positions in the future as automation increases, certain industries decline, and new ones are created.

For millennials, learning a skill today doesn’t get one as far as it did 50 years ago. Change happens so fast due to technology advances, evolving business models, shorter product lifecycles, etc. that half of what one knew five years ago is now irrelevant and much of what was learned a decade ago is now obsolete. As Gen Z (ages 18 and younger) enters the workplace, skills will become less relevant at an even faster rate. 65% of the jobs the next generation will have to fill don’t exist yet—an even greater skills gap than millennials are facing. How do you prepare for a future where workers must be able to learn new skills on command and regularly retrain to remain employable?


Why XR is perfect for attracting millennials, intergenerational transfer of skills

and future skill development

Augmented and Virtual Reality can resolve generational differences that make the transfer of skills from boomers to millennials difficult. For a generation that responds best to digital learning methods job hunting in an economy in which the pace of change is ever-increasing, XR is the perfect tool.

At many companies, training is classroom-style. Retiring workers may be asked to write down everything they’ve learned or put that knowledge into a PowerPoint presentation for new employees to study in classroom-like training spaces, but that doesn’t do much to stop the brain drain. Not only is it difficult to train for real-life scenarios this way, including emergencies, operation of heavy equipment and unique customer service situations; it’s also inefficient. Even if you could distill a career’s worth of lessons into a handbook or video, millennials learn best by doing.

Enter XR: Employees exiting the workforce can use smart glasses to record workflows, preserving their knowledge in a format that can be pulled up – heads-up and hands-free – by an inexperienced worker on the job or used to create immersive (virtual reality) training simulations. Smart glasses are an easy way for older workers to save their knowledge and new employees to absorb that information while working without risking productivity or quality. Developing VR training programs based upon a longtime worker’s real experiences is another way to effectively preserve, recycle and impart knowledge that would otherwise be lost. And the technology is attractive to millennials, 44% of whom believe their current workplaces are not “smart” enough (Penn Schoen Berland).

Millennials are more likely to accept and stay at a job where progressive technology is integrated into both training and day-to-day operations, especially AR and VR. The Oculus Rift, after all, was developed by a millennial for millennials. It has been shown that people of all ages pick up new concepts more quickly and retain knowledge longer through active learning, including immersive experiences. Millennials see the value of XR right away—66% believe VR training will allow them to train from anywhere, on their own time. Beyond training, millennials believe XR will improve collaboration, innovation and flexibility. In fact, 73% say virtual sharing tools are important to them. This is a generation raised on AIM and natural at using tools like Slack, a generation that shies away from phone communication but would work well together in virtual spaces. Millennials won’t be intellectually stimulated in an office that runs on paper. They won’t be engaged tied to a desktop computer from nine to five; but give them the technology to receive just-in-time training, access information at the point of need, and collaborate/work remotely, and they will perform at their best.


Though millennials are often derided by older generations as entitled, lazy, etc., they’re actually a more socially conscious and quite hard-working group open to new ways of working. So, why should employers accommodate their habits and preferences? In addition to becoming the largest generation in the workforce, millennials’ habits and preferences – to which XR technologies are conducive – are key to surviving and maintaining a competent workforce through digital disruption. What does it mean for businesses that XR will soon become a standard teaching tool at schools and universities? It means future workers will demand those tools. As a technology that can be continuously adapted to new training needs, XR is the future of on-demand training and retraining, the future of shaping the workforce.

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE,) the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Augmented and Virtual Reality, is taking place May 30-June 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Now in its 9th year, AWE USA is the destination for CXOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors and top press to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.

photo credit: amsfrank via photopin (license)

Driving Ahead: Car Companies Using XR to Adapt in a Post-Uber World

My last blog post built upon Uber’s wrecking ball-style entrance into the cab industry. Less obvious is Uber’s impact in the automotive sector, where the app is creating waves for car manufacturers. Ride-sharing is just one of the trends forcing the auto industry to transform. In fact, some industry observers believe automotive is about to have its most dramatic revolution since Henry Ford’s time.


State of the Auto Industry

Changing Attitudes Towards Vehicle Ownership and Declining Sales

Private car ownership is becoming less and less necessary, practical and desirable in many cities around the world thanks to the rising costs of urban living, civic measures to discourage car use, worsening traffic and lack of parking, and always-available services like Uber and Lyft.

More car ownership trends: As cars have become more reliable, people are holding onto them for longer or opting for used cars. Delayed by student debt and economic uncertainty, young professionals aren’t moving to the suburbs like their parents did; and younger Americans simply prefer ordering a car via app to owning one—all reasons why vehicle sales declined in 2017 for the first time in years. This downward trend will likely continue; for while ride-hailing makes owning a car unnecessary, in a future with self-driving vehicles people won’t even need to know how to drive.


Ride-sharing and the New Car Buyers

Uber has forever changed how we get around, but why is this problematic for automakers? It’s not like ride-hailing is making cars obsolete. The issue is Uber’s impact on consumer behavior. Automobile manufacturers have been marketing new vehicle designs and features to customer types that are pulling away from car buying (for now). Take the new driver: Learning to drive has traditionally been a rite of passage for suburban teens, but far fewer millennials have driver’s licenses today compared to older generations. So, what will the future of car ownership look like?

In the future, ride-sharing companies and contractors – less discriminatory than traditional car buyers – may very well be the auto industry’s top clientele, and vehicles may become increasingly homogenized as a result. Though still far away from fleets of robocabs, car culture is changing: Personal cars don’t have the same social status they used to, and ride-sharing vehicles are invading city streets. Automotive companies must adapt to the social change brought by new mobility services.


The Race to Get Connected and Achieve Autonomy

On top of the classic goals of reducing costs, improving fuel efficiency, increasing sales, etc.; auto companies today are competing to redefine consumers’ relationship with cars and invent the future of driving. They’re designing ever-more futuristic vehicles – battery-powered, self-configuring, able to track the driver’s health and predict maintenance – and investing in the technology to build them: Cloud infrastructure software and analytics, artificial intelligence, mapping systems, plus the talent and expertise to go with these and other bleeding-edge technologies.


Autonomous vehicles may eventually boost private car ownership; but while companies race to develop the first commercially viable self-driving car platform, today’s drivers want better, smarter dealership and driving experiences. As the level of technological convenience and control in their lives increases, consumers expect more of every product and service offered to them. And though ride-sharing and the promise of self-driving vehicles in the next five years threaten to upend the entire model of car ownership, automakers cannot afford to neglect regular drivers. They need to continue to make and sell new cars, delivering semi-autonomous and connected driving upgrades and revamping the car buying process to lure people into dealerships and keep them in the brand.


Getting Ahead with XR: Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche

Arguably more than any other industry, the automotive sector has been the most aggressive in its wearable tech adoption. Auto companies have had the most success implementing exoskeletons, and they’re exploring Augmented and Virtual Reality in multiple areas of the automotive business. Read how Ford, Volkswagen and Porsche are using XR to advance their operations, improve the customer experience and bolster their brands amidst unprecedented change in the auto industry:


Ford

In addition to providing assembly line workers with upper body exoskeletons to reduce the physical toll of repetitive overhead tasks, Ford has been working to develop VR platforms for both its customers and designers.

Last year, after an initial pilot phase at its Design Studio in Cologne, the auto giant expanded its use of Microsoft’s HoloLens. The technology enables Ford designers and engineers to more effectively work together on confidential designs and quickly model out changes to vehicles, viewing those changes on top of a real car as opposed to the time-consuming and expensive clay model approach. Ford hasn’t entirely abandoned clay models but with Mixed Reality, designers don’t have to build out a new clay prototype after every design decision; they can just augment the 3D model.

At Ford, Mixed Reality is proving to be a boon to innovation, collaboration, and time to market—improvements that will aid the American auto brand’s efforts to reimagine vehicles, deliver a better in-vehicle experience, and differentiate itself through design. Beyond vehicle design, Ford envisions consumers using AR/VR headsets at home to customize cars and create their own virtual test drive experiences; and Ford dealers using state-of-the-art hologram display cars to more effectively utilize showroom space.

(^Elizabeth Baron, Technical Specialist in VR and Advanced Visualization at Ford, will speak at EWTS 2018.)


Volkswagen

In Fall 2017, Volkswagen established a Digital Realities team encompassing 12 of its brands across 120 sites around the world and a Digital Reality Hub to enable long-distance collaboration among team members. The German automaker had been experimenting with HoloLens at its Virtual Engineering Lab in Wolfsburg, to project designs onto a scale model of a VW Golf; and exploring how to apply the technology to technical development.

From these efforts came the Digital Reality Hub, which combines multiple group VR applications and tools into one platform allowing designers and engineers all over to work on the same project simultaneously, exchange and test ideas, and even participate in virtual workshops. In addition to new vehicle models, real locations like factory production lines can be modeled in the virtual environment to trial optimization measures without the need for site visits.

It cannot be overstated how much XR impacts productivity or how critical an efficient network among Volkswagen’s global brands will be to the company’s success in the next phase of the auto industry. Most recently, VW teamed up with VR studio Innoactive to create more than 30 VR training scenarios for the HTC Vive Pro. The automaker plans to train 10,000 employees in production and logistics this year using Virtual Reality.


Porsche

In November, Porsche introduced the “Tech Live Look” Augmented Reality solution for dealerships, which consists of Atheer’s AiR Enterprise software platform running on smart glasses. Wearing the glasses, an L.A.-based service technician can connect with Porsche’s technical support team over 2,000 miles away in Atlanta and receive remote expert help in identifying and resolving technical issues. The remote expert can take screen shots of the tech’s view or project instructions into her field of view while she works—far more efficient than an email or phone call.

In a July 2017 pilot program across eight dealerships, the “see-what-I-see” technology helped decrease service resolution time by up to 40%. Not only is this the kind of quick turnaround service consumers are coming to expect, but when the solution launches this year it will be a real differentiator for the luxury car brand. Again, as the technology inside vehicles gets more advanced and as companies like Porsche transition from the mentality of car as a product to vehicle as an experience; the capabilities offered by XR – better communication, productivity, visualization, decision making, problem solving and customer experience – become more significant.

(^Heather Turney, Culture and Innovation Manager at Porsche, will speak at EWTS 2018.)


With all the disruption caused by new alternatives to vehicle ownership, new energy options, 3D printing of auto parts, AI, self-driving tech, etc.; it’s more important than ever for automakers to optimize operations, automate assembly lines, engage consumers, and prepare the workforce for more complex manufacturing and IT-heavy jobs. One major step is to adopt XR as a standard tool for design, training, production and customer service. After all, how can you expect to build the future if your factory and workforce are still in the past? How can you invent the future if it takes days and weeks to collaborate and review designs? And how can you sell the future if consumers aren’t excited about it?

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE,) the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Augmented and Virtual Reality, is taking place May 30-June 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Now in its 9th year, AWE USA is the destination for CXOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors and top press to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.

photo credit: Pittou2 Salon de L’auto Tesla Model S via photopin (license)

Preventing Casualties of XR in Enterprise

A New York Times article published on February 6th told the story of Doug Schifter, a New York City yellow cab driver who had taken his own life in front of City Hall. In a Facebook post, Schifter – who was in his early 60s – condemned city and state politicians and ride-sharing apps like Uber that had “de-professionalized” his career of over 30 years and made it impossible for him to earn a living. The Times article described Doug as a “casualty” of the gig economy.  

I know this is a rather depressing way to begin a blog post, but I believe that in Schifter’s death there is a lesson that applies to the global workforce, a force that is quickly changing due to digital disruption. And as enthusiasts, providers, facilitators and users of emerging tech in enterprise, it is important for us to heed that lesson.

Uber and its rivals have been incredibly disruptive to the taxi industries in cities around the world. But the rideshare service, a concept realized with algorithms and a mobile app, didn’t eliminate jobs so much as influence supply and demand, increasing supply while offering a convenient solution to the same needs served by the cab industry. Yes, Uber takes business away from traditional livery drivers, but the answer is not to ban Uber (as some European countries have done) in order to protect those workers. Innovation should be embraced (and regulated,) not resisted.

Fast-advancing technologies like automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and Augmented and Virtual Reality – the next wave of digital disruption in enterprise – do not signify the end of the human workforce as people fear. They do, however, present a challenge requiring us to rethink the skilled workforce and the role of the worker in every workplace and industry. As some jobs become obsolete, others require less human labor than before, and new higher-skilled jobs are created, the workforce will need to adapt. This task does not fall solely on the Doug Schifters of the world; as a community it is our responsibility to prevent the kind of toll that has left many feeling hopeless in the face of innovation.

From the Industrial Revolution to the rise of the Internet, technology has periodically displaced positions in the job market; but from each new wave of technological innovation springs new jobs, different jobs, even entirely new career fields. Today, jobs are being lost to climate change, globalization and, yes, automation, but we’re not headed for mass unemployment. In fact, there are millions of unfilled jobs in the U.S. right now due to a shortage of qualified applicants. The problem isn’t that robots are taking all the jobs; it’s that the nature of work is changing. The jobs that are declining are largely low- and middle-skilled ones, with new employment opportunities requiring higher skill levels. So, while humans will not disappear from the factory altogether – human ingenuity, emotional intelligence and the ability to adapt are irreplaceable, after all – they will need a skills upgrade, fast. I call this recasting the workforce, and it will be accomplished with digital information overlaid on the physical world and immersive simulations of real-world scenarios.

When it comes to jobs, technology is both the disruptor and the solution. What happens to the employee who is replaced on the assembly line? Or the plumber who has less work because potential customers can fix a clogged drain themselves by watching a Virtual Reality tutorial at home? You see it’s not just automation impacting jobs: AR, VR and MR (or XR for short) are de-professionalizing skilled trades à la Uber by lowering the barrier of entry into those career fields. We often talk about AR glasses as a solution for quickly training new workers on the job, but the next generation of computing may also be the reason there is less work to go around in some professions.

For those who do lose their jobs or become unable to support themselves doing what they did BDT (Before Digital Transformation,) how do they adapt? How can we expect worried workers to view the arrival of ARKit as a bright sign for the future when there’s a social and pop culture narrative that demonizes new technologies like robotics, AI and XR? Or when the tech community undersells the technology as a medium for entertainment and a way to view Ikea furniture in your living room before you buy? To the average person, Augmented and Virtual Reality are still really far-out and irrelevant to their problems in life. We need to therefore convey the true potential of XR—XR needs a big PR boost before it becomes as feared as automation, before it’s seen as another job killer, another enabler of the gig economy.

Augmented and Virtual Reality are career advancement tools that should assuage workers’ fears of the “rise of the machines.” By augmenting the human capacity to learn and be productive, AR and VR enable career mobility – upwards and across professional and industry lines – at a time when emerging technologies like automation are putting pressure on the workforce to become more flexible. And though it sounds counterintuitive, digital realities are critical to minimizing the impact of digital disruption because they can help displaced workers move on from the jobs that aren’t coming back by facilitating on-demand, just-in-time training in new, higher-skilled roles.

So, to the current and future ex-factory workers, to industry veterans trying to work through the disruption in their fields, and to those daunted by entering a job force that demands higher and higher skills: Put on a pair of smart glasses. Don’t let current device and software limitations fuel doubts and resentment. And to enterprise technology decision makers: It’s time to pay attention to consumer attitudes towards XR, because today’s consumers will be the ones to fill the ranks of your workforces. As robots assume the repetitive and physically strenuous jobs, their human predecessors will use XR technologies to up their skills, prepare for new jobs, shift positions in their companies, or even change occupations entirely. It’s truly a new wave of mobility.

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE,) the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Augmented and Virtual Reality, is taking place May 30-June 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Now in its 9th year, AWE USA is the destination for CXOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors and top press to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.

Where are the simple but effective wearables?

Remote collaboration via smart glasses, Virtual Reality training, design visualization with HoloLens…These are incredible applications of wearable technologies in enterprise today. While a VR headset is definitely more exciting than a connected wristband, an unassuming wrist-worn device equipped with the right sensors could have tremendous value in the workplace. But where are such simple wearables?

No stranger to employee backlash, Amazon is currently taking heat for a pair of patents awarded to the company. The patents – for wristbands that use ultrasonic pulses and haptic feedback to track and guide a worker’s hands in relation to inventory bins in a warehouse – have raised concerns over employee privacy and workplace surveillance. This is not surprising to anyone who follows the enterprise wearable tech space—privacy has been one of the major challenges holding back widespread adoption of wearables in the workplace. Nevertheless, enterprises are managing to work around the issue today by being transparent, allowing opt-in, and taking the security of workers’ personal data seriously.

To those criticizing the employee-tracking wearables as invasive, Amazon insists the technology would be used to track inventory and not individuals. But can you really track one and not the other using a wearable? Yes, the devices would help workers by freeing up their hands and making them more accurate, but they would also provide insights on personal performance as a byproduct. We know that when it comes to smartphone apps, consumers are willing to give up some measure of privacy for discounts and other benefits. The same holds in the workplace—if workers see the benefit, they’re more likely to support adoption.

Should Amazon one day employ the devices described in the patents, employees’ wearable data could be viewed anonymously—a solution some companies have explored in order to collect workforce productivity and efficiency information without invading privacy or sparking fear among workers of the wearable data being used to penalize them. Of course, this requires a degree of trust between employer and employees (which might be difficult for Amazon given the company’s history of strained relations with its workers.)

What I take away from the Amazon story is the concept of simple but effective wearables. Monocular (Assisted Reality) smart glasses are proving effective in many real-life use cases and could be viewed as relatively simple compared to AR/VR headsets, but I’m talking even simpler and more invisible. Simple smart bands, not fitness trackers but rather inconspicuous wristbands that pack a big punch (advanced sensors) and deliver significant results. These kinds of wearables – no-frills devices without screens or buttons or any method of user interaction at all – seem to be missing from the market today.

The simple but effective category of enterprise wearables includes bracelets, patches, and possibly items of ordinary clothing equipped with sensors and haptic technology and aimed at very specific outcomes for improving workers’ lives on the job. Imagine a customizable or modular smart band: You decide what needs to be tracked to achieve your objective – maybe it’s the missing human piece in a greater IoT scheme – and the appropriate sensors are embedded in the device.

There are use cases of enterprises using a variety of minimalistic wearables, mostly the products of smaller companies and startups, to target risk factors for employees in the workplace. In those cases, some biometric (ex. fatigue, body temp) or chemical in the work environment was measured via wearable. Sometimes the same wearable beeped, lit up or vibrated to warn the wearer when a threshold was crossed.

You don’t need a fancy wearable to track employees’ health on the job, just a form factor that can house the right sensor(s.) A simple body-worn device could track a worker’s location in real time or measure the user’s form and movement while performing a task. The objective might be to ensure employees stay confined to safe zones or have clearance to be in a certain area, to optimize the flow of workers throughout a job site or busy airport, to decrease repetitive motion injuries, or to locate workers in case of an emergency.

What about a smart band that acts as a key in lieu of card access to a secure area, or that turns on a piece of equipment? Similar applications are popping up in the travel and hospitality sector, and might provide a layer of security, safety and convenience in a wide range of industries. Which tasks – like clocking in and out of a shift – could be taken out of workers’ hands and made mindless with a basic wearable? And why are there few well-known wearables of this type on the market today? Perhaps we’re not yet ready for implantable chips capable of the same, but Amazon’s employee-tracking wristband is not an ominous sign for the future of work; rather, it is a model more wearable companies should be pursuing.

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE,) the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to Augmented and Virtual Reality, is taking place May 30-June 1, 2018 in Santa Clara, CA. Now in its 9th year, AWE USA is the destination for CXOs, designers, developers, creative agencies, futurists, analysts, investors and top press to learn, inspire, partner and experience first-hand the most exciting industry of our times.

 

Image Credit: Amazon/USPTO

Wearable Technologies 2017: Year in Review, from Glass Enterprise Edition to ARKit

2017 brought us the public reveal of Google Glass Enterprise Edition and a jumpstart to consumer AR adoption in the form of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Augmented and Virtual Reality made further headway in enterprise, especially for design collaboration, assembly instructions, and training. Worker safety wearables cropped up on job sites while exoskeletons pulled their weight in automotive plants. And smartwatches proved to be a useful tool for employee productivity in several workplaces including restaurants and airports. Here’s a recap of the best use cases and biggest developments from this past year in wearable technology.

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A number of enterprises made headlines for their use of wearables in 2017

The most covered use case – and among the most mature use cases out there – was AGCO’s use of Google Glass Enterprise Edition. At the manufacturer’s Jackson, MN factory, employees have been using Glass Enterprise Edition with Proceedix software in assembly and quality assurance for some time now. AGCO was actually one of the companies that worked with Google behind the scenes to improve upon the tech giant’s original smart glasses device.

(Watch Peggy Gulick of AGCO speaking at EWTS Fall 2017 (Video) and read our interview with her here)

Another Glass user, GE Aviation, gained attention this year for a successful pilot of Upskill’s Skylight platform. In the pilot, GE mechanics used Glass EE along with a connected torque wrench to increase efficiency in assembly and maintenance. Other aerospace companies have seen positive results with smart glasses, including Boeing (also using Skylight) and Airbus (using a Vuzix smart glasses solution developed with Accenture.)

Automakers’ use of wearable tech, including AR/VR and exoskeletons, was widespread: Ford expanded testing of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset in vehicle design, and is exploring how to use showroom space more effectively and enable customers to shop at home using Augmented and Virtual Reality. Ford is also testing exoskeleton technology to reduce the physical strain of assembly work, as are BMW and Audi. Other automobile companies looking at AR/VR in the design process and dealership experience include Volkswagen, Porsche, and Jaguar Land Rover. PSA Peugeot Citroën is using smart glasses for remote support.

Outside the manufacturing plant, wearables could be found in several airports around the world. Both Cincinnati International Airport and San Diego International Airport tried out Samsung Gear smartwatches—housekeeping staff at CVG used the watches with Hipaax’s task management platform, while SAN employees used the devices to respond to IT issues. SITA Lab with Helsinki Airport tested HoloLens for visualizing the airport’s operational data; and Singapore’s Changi Airport introduced Vuzix smart glasses to its ground crew.

Many enterprises began AR/VR programs for design collaboration and employee training this year. On the design side, medical device company Stryker used HoloLens to design operating rooms; and Lowe’s believes VR can help customers with their home improvement projects (Lowe’s also tested exoskeletons.) And a wide array of companies tested or are using VR to train workers, including Walmart, UPS, Fidelity Investments, Farmers Insurance, and even KFC.

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A number of developments in 2017 indicated that enterprises can no longer afford to ignore emerging technologies like wearables and XR. The ecosystem both consolidated and matured, giving us better devices and software; and the largest tech companies entered the game, dropping hints of big plans to come.

Familiar Faces:

Hardware:

First, a bit of housekeeping: Intel axed its Recon Jet line of smart glasses and the frustratingly mysterious Magic Leap secured another $502M of funding.

Google Glass 2.0 or Glass Enterprise Edition arrived (check out the specs.) Google also introduced an updated Daydream VR headset; a new SDK for its AR-enabled Pixel phones (ARCore,) and several tools for creating AR/VR content (ex. Poly.)

Vuzix was very busy in 2017: The Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses are now supported by PTC’s Vuforia platform and Blackberry’s UEM software. In addition, Vuzix teamed up with Toshiba on a custom, tethered version of the M300. The company launched the developer kit pre-order program for the sleek Vuzix Blade AR glasses; and to cap off the year announced VUZIX Basics, a platform of out-of-the-box, easy to use applications for its growing line of smart glasses.

DAQRI added enterprise AR smart glasses to its product line. The device, which costs $4,995, began shipping in November. DAQRI also worked with Trimble to integrate Trimble’s Mixed Reality application suite with the DAQRI Smart Helmet. Another entrant came from Six15 Technologies—Darwin is the company’s first smart glasses built for enterprise, derived form Six15’s military-grade Tac-Eye line (view the device specs.) Darwin Developer kits began shipping over the summer, with pre-orders for the Mentor variant beginning in January 2018.

ODG unveiled the R-7HL, smart glasses optimized for use in extreme or hazardous environments. The company’s R-8 smart glasses, priced under $1,000, are aimed at early adopters and “light” enterprises, while the R-9 ($1,799) targets commercial enterprises. Meanwhile, rival Epson introduced the Epson Moverio BT-350 to be shared among multiple users and the Moverio Pro BT-2200 to be worn with safety helmets in industrial settings.

Microsoft created the Mixed Reality Partner Program to welcome more systems integrators and digital agencies to develop experiences for the HoloLens, and expanded sales of its Mixed Reality headset – now certified for use as basic protective eyewear – to new European markets. Microsoft also acquired social VR app AltspaceVR in October and Windows 10 now powers VR headsets from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung.

In January, RealWear announced its Pioneer Program giving over 50 industrial enterprises early access to the HMT-1, its rugged, head-mounted Android tablet. In March, the company released the device to a limited audience of around 65 companies for pilot programs. RealWear also partnered to integrate Librestream’s Onsight platform and HPE’s MyRoom Visual Remote Guidance (VRG) solution with the HMT-1.

In Virtual Reality, Oculus launched the $900 Oculus for Business bundle, allowing companies to buy headsets in bulk with warranties, a full VR commercial license and dedicated customer support. HTC reduced the price of its Vive headset and admitted it is working with enterprises to extend the device’s use beyond gaming. In an unexpected play, Hewlett Packard debuted the HP Z VR Backpack PC, a VR-capable PC in backpack form for enterprise VR applications.

Software:

APX Labs remade itself in 2017, first by changing its name to Upskill to better reflect what its solutions do for enterprises. The company also acquired Pristine and released the next generation of its Skylight platform, which offers an improved user interface, more scalable AR solution, and lower cost of ownership for customers.

Atheer acquired Mixed Reality app maker SpaceView, expanding its solutions to new markets; and released updates to its AiR platform including full encryption, taskflow reporting and Vuzix M300 support. Ubimax, another enterprise wearable software leader, announced Ubimax Frontline—a complete end-to-end solution integrating the company’s xPick, xMake, xInspect and xAssist applications.

New players:

Nymi closed a deal to deploy the Nymi Band in an enterprise setting for the first time. Wearable device management company Augmate returned with Augmate Connect, an IoT device management platform using distributed ledger (blockchain) technology. Lenovo showcased the New Glass C200, smart glasses designed for enterprise, at CES 2017; and also formed Lenovo New Vision, a joint venture focusing on AR smart headsets, with Kopin. And Olympus entered the fray with the EyeTrek Insight EL-10 smart glasses designed to attach to existing eyewear.

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Given juicy rumors of Alexa-embedded smart glasses from Amazon and an AR headset from Apple as early as 2020 (Apple’s latest startup acquisitions Vrvana and Finisar are AR-related and Apple supplier Quanta just partnered with Lumus;) it’s even clearer going into 2018 than it was a year ago that every company needs a wearable strategy. To put it bluntly: If you’re not piloting and familiarizing yourself with wearables including AR/VR headsets, you’re already behind.

 

The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. EWTS is where enterprises go to innovate with the latest in wearable tech, including heads-up displays, AR/VR/MR, body- and wrist-worn devices, and even exoskeletons. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.

 

photo credit: pennlibtrl PennImmersive Techs Open House via photopin (license)