Is Digital Transformation for Men? Female Factors in Wearable Tech Design

In 2015, NASA celebrated over 50 years of spacewalking. Three years later, in March 2018, the agency called off the first all-female spacewalk due to a shortage of smaller-sized spacesuits. The walk-back led to a Twitter storm, with women sharing hundreds of stories of their own ill-fitting work uniforms and oversized ‘standard’ gear; but “It’s not just spacesuits,” one woman tweeted: “It’s public spaces like bathrooms, cars, cockpits, office air conditioning, microwave installation heights, Oculus, military fatigues…an endless list.”

In December, I wrote about the phenomenon of patriarchal coding. A feeling that today’s VR headsets were not designed with women in mind set me on a trail of research that revealed I’m not alone in feeling this way and that the majority of the products and systems we use every day are designed by and for men. This phenomenon affects every aspect of women’s lives – it even endangers our lives – and it’s unintentional for the most part, which makes it all the more frustrating. Sexism is so ingrained in our society that women’s unique needs and biology (like the fact that we have breasts) are excluded from reality, even of the virtual kind.

My main point then was that wearable technologies – the body-worn sensors being integrated into organizations’ EHS efforts, exoskeletons taking a load off workers’ backs, and VR headsets being hailed as the future of job training – exhibit coded patriarchy and risk further alienating the female workforce. Wearables that are replacing or supplementing traditional PPE (personal protective equipment) cannot succumb to the same biased or negligent design as have automobiles, office buildings, etc., for the future economy and growth of the workforce depend upon improving job prospects and working environments for women.


The history of man

Women and the female perspective are largely missing from human and world history (as is often the non-western point of view) and entirely absent in the fundamental research underlying the foundations of modern life, including economics and urban planning. The star of the show is “Reference Man,” a 154-pound Caucasian male aged 25 to 30, who has been taken to represent humanity as a whole when it comes to the design of everything from power tools to the height of a standard shelf. Take medicine: Though women process drugs differently, medications are tested only on men. Cars: For decades, car safety testing has focused on the 50th percentile male. The most common crash-test dummy is taller and heavier than the average woman, with male muscle-mass proportions and a male spinal column. This is how “standard seating position” was determined. Women, however, sit further forward in the driver’s seat and thus are 47% more likely to be seriously injured in a car crash. In 2011, the US began using a female crash-test dummy, though not an anthropometrically correct one. Testing with a pregnant dummy? Forget it.


Beyond product ergonomics

It’s annoying that so many gadgets we use are one-size-fits-men, and it’s dangerous. The world is less safe for women because we haven’t been factored into the design of not only physical products but also the software behind everything. Consider navigation apps, which provide the quickest and shortest routes to a destination, but not the safest; or voice recognition and other AI tech, which is male-biased and also becoming indispensable to how we interact with our devices and how systems make major decisions affecting humanity. Google’s voice recognition software? 70% more likely to accurately recognize male speech. Apple’s Siri? When she launched, she could help a user having a heart attack but didn’t know what “I was raped” means. (Side note: the heart attack symptoms healthcare professionals are taught to identify are actually male symptoms.)

Last year, Amazon had to scrap an experimental recruiting tool that taught itself to prefer male candidates for software development and other technical jobs. How did this happen? Because the computer model was trained to observe patterns in resumes from the previous ten years, most of which were submitted by men since the tech world is notoriously, overwhelmingly male. What’s frightening is that in a 2017 survey by CareerBuilder, over half of U.S. HR managers said they would make artificial intelligence a regular part of HR operations within five years. That means women will have to combat unfair algorithms in addition to unconscious bias in order to advance in the workforce. IBM CEO Ginni Rometty says it’s up to businesses to prepare a new generation of workers for AI-driven changes to the workforce. In a world in which AI will impact – and perhaps determine hiring – for every existing job, the fact that women and minorities are disproportionally left out of the teams behind the AI revolution is tragic.


The data gap at the heart of the workplace 

Occupational research has traditionally focused on male workers in male-dominated industries. Few studies have been done on women’s bodies and job environments, so there is little occupational health and safety data for women. The uniforms in most professions are therefore designed for the average man’s body and the why behind trends like the increasing rate of breast cancer in industry remains unknown. Relying on data from studies done on men may explain why serious injuries in the workplace have gone down for men but are increasing among women workers. This despite that, for the last three years, women have been entering the workforce at more than twice the rate of men. (You do the workers’ comp math, employers.)

When we talk about using wearables for EHS applications, oftentimes we’re speaking about body-worn sensors that can detect biometric and environmental data affecting a worker’s health and safety. The software behind these applications might send an alert to the worker or wearer when a reading reaches a certain threshold, but how is that threshold – the danger zone – determined? Say we’re tracking a worker’s exposure to a particular chemical. Women and men have different immune systems and hormones; women also tend to be smaller, have thinner skin, and have a higher percentage of body fat than men—differences that can influence how chemicals are absorbed in the body. Without female-specific data, the threshold at which a wearable device is set to alert the wearer would likely be higher than the toxin level to which a female worker can be safely exposed, putting women at greater risk of harmful exposure. The problem is two-fold: We don’t have data about exposure in “women’s work” and we’re clueless when it comes to women (increasingly) working in male-dominated industries. At this point, it would take a working generation of women to get any usable data on long-latency work-related diseases like cancer.


No PPE for you

Construction is one of those male-dominated industries in which standard equipment and PPE has been designed around the male body. Though there is little data on injuries to women in construction, a study of union carpenters did find that women have higher rates of wrist and forearm sprains, strains and nerve conditions than their male counterparts. To comply with legal requirements, many employers just buy smaller sizes for their female employees but scaled-down PPE doesn’t account for the characteristics (chests, hips and thighs) of a woman’s body. Moreover, it doesn’t seem cost-effective for employers to meet the order minimum for those sizes when women make up less than 10% of the construction workforce. Giant overalls are one thing, but the straps on a safety harness not fitting around your body? How is a woman supposed to perform at the same level as a man if her clothing and equipment are a hindrance? If oversized gloves reduce her dexterity, a standard wrench is too large for her to grip tightly, or her overly long safety vest snags on a piece of equipment? Already a minority in the sector, women don’t usually complain about ill-fitting PPE. Instead, they make their own modifications (with duct tape, staples, etc.). And it’s not just women; dust and hazard eye masks designed for the Reference Man also put many men of color at a disadvantage.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. A standard-sized bag of cement could be made smaller and lighter so that a woman could easily lift it. Exoskeletons might be a solution, but so is going back to the drawing board: Jane Henry’s SeeHerWork, for example, is an inclusive clothing line for women in fields like construction and engineering, fields with lucrative, equal-pay careers and massive labor shortages—fields that need women.


Designing the workplace

Guess what? Men are the default for office infrastructure, too, from the A/C (women tend to freeze in the workplace, which hurts productivity) to the number of bathrooms and stalls (a single restroom with urinals serves more individuals). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, women represent nearly two-thirds of all reported cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, which indicates that workstations are less ergonomic for women. Open office plans are conducive to socializing and breaking down hierarchies, right? No, they actually encourage sexist behavior. A 2018 study documenting the experiences of women in an open office designed by men – lots of glass, identical desks, group spaces – found that the lack of privacy created an environment in which female workers were always watched and judged on their appearance. Designers today are beginning to use virtual reality to design factory layouts and workstations, even assembly processes, but that doesn’t mean they’re factoring in female anatomy or putting headsets on women workers to get their input.

I spoke with Janelle Haines, Human Factors Engineer at John Deere, who uses virtual reality to evaluate the ergonomics of assembly, about her experiences performing evaluations on women workers. Most of the people she gets to put in a VR headset are male; however, there are a few female employees available at times for evaluations. “Fitting the job to the worker hasn’t [always] been a focus. Even in the last fifteen years that I’ve been studying ergonomics, there has been a huge shift in learning to focus on ergonomics. It has become a kind of buzz word…There are some jobs that have been at John Deere for years and years, since we started building combines, that aren’t a great fit for women, but going forward with new designs we’re using VR to make sure the workstations and what we design do work for women.” Ergonomics aren’t a new area of study, but Janelle points out a promising shift in thinking and a deliberateness that’s necessary “going forward.”


The future of work: Uncomfortable = unproductive

Smartphones have become standard work tools in many jobs. Men can use the average smartphone one-handed; women cannot (smaller hands). This kind of oversight cannot be carried into the next wave of mobile: Wearable technology. That women have different muscle mass distribution and vertebrae spacing, lower bone density, shorter legs, smaller wrists, lower centers of mass, etc. matters when it comes to the design and application of wearable devices like partial and full exoskeletons, connected clothing and gear, augmented reality smart glasses, and virtual reality headsets. Early decisions in developing transformative technologies can create a weak foundation for the future of that tech.

Already women are at a disadvantage in VR. As far back as 2012, researchers found that men and women experience virtual reality differently and a growing body of research indicates why. Motion parallax (preferred by men) and shape-from-shading (preferred by women) are two kinds of depth perception. What creates a sense of immersion for men is motion parallax or how objects move relative to you, and this is easier to render or program in VR. For women, it’s shape-from-shading, meaning if a shadow is ‘off’ it will ruin the immersive experience for a woman. As shape-from-shading is more difficult to emulate, most VR tech uses motion parallax. Then there are the poor ergonomics of most VR headsets for women (too heavy, too loose, etc.). Why does this matter? Because VR is being hailed as the future of learning and job training; VR is going to be crucial for filling millions of vacant positions and for upskilling the workforce as automation advances. When one half of the population experiences the technology differently than the other half, that’s an unequalizer, especially when all indications point to people spending more time in VR in coming years.


Stop defaulting to men 

The long legacy of researchers overlooking women – not wanting to pay for double the testing – has looming implications at a time when we’re collecting data from more and more ‘things’ and powerful computers are making important decisions for us. It’s bigger than a spacesuit; we’re making decisions based upon biased, incomplete data, feeding that data into algorithms that can exacerbate gender and other inequalities, create risks among certain populations, and encode prejudices into the future. The answer? First, inject more diversity into the labs and back rooms where the future is being designed and engineered. Second, hire female designers and stop using men as a default for everything!

 

 

In writing this article, I drew heavily on the efforts and writings of a number of inspiring women; including Caroline Criado-Perez, author of Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men,” Abby Ferri of the American Society of Safety Professionals, and Rachel Tatman, research fellow in linguistics at the University of Washington.

 

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 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and speaker lineup, available on the conference website.

Alternative Enterprise Wearables: Vests, Visors and Hearables

What is the most successful piece of wearable technology in human history? Arguably, it’s the hearing aid. In fact, hearing aids might be considered the original hearables. Yes, I said hearables. Wearables are a broad category of devices – broader than you might think – encompassing not only smartwatches and smart eyewear but also embeddables, hearables and ingestables—any connected device that can be worn somewhere on or inside the body. We can extrapolate this to define an enterprise wearable as any electronic device that a worker wears (or ingests) to improve his or her performance and safety in some way. Then, there are items of clothing and gear equipped with today’s advanced sensors. In many industries, these wearables are a worker’s last line of defense against injury in the workplace. Read on for some alternative enterprise wearables – non-watch and non-eyeglass form factors – under development or currently available for enterprise:


Smart Suspenders and Other Accessories

Amazon has over 100,000 robots in its warehouses. Funnily enough, as efficient as these robots are at moving containers of items to help human pickers fulfill millions of online orders, they (or rather their on-board sensors) aren’t all that great at recognizing their human coworkers. In human-robot workplaces, most accidents occur during non-routine actions. At Amazon, robots operate within a designated area or enclosure, but if one breaks down or drops an item, a human employee must enter that space and that’s when a collision is most likely to occur.

Over 2018, Amazon introduced the Robotic Tech Vest (RTV) to more than 25 facilities. Though called a vest, the RTV is more like a utility belt with suspenders that sends a signal to the robots when a human is nearby. The RTV can actually signal the wearer’s presence from farther away than the point at which the robot’s built-in sensor tech can recognize a human being, adding an extra layer of safety to the robots’ ability to scan for obstacles. This also gives the robot more time to slow down and reroute so as to avoid a collision. Amazon has reported that in 2018 the RTVs alerted robots to avoid human workers over a million times.

Other items of clothing and gear can be decked out with sensors to gather information, improve safety, and improve productivity across the workforce. There are heated jackets and cooling vests for extreme work environments, even self-charging work boots that track fatigue and provide lighting for jobs in low light. Such wearables could also be used for geofencing, alerting employees upon entering a restricted or unsafe zone. Earlier this month, Fraunhofer presented a prototype of another smart vest called the ErgoJack, a wearable soft robotics system with real-time motion detection and analysis. Designed for workers who lift heavy objects or spend long hours bent over a component, the ErgoJack can distinguish between ergonomic and unergonomic movements and alert the wearer in real time to prevent back pain and premature spine wear.


On the High Seas 

Working (and vacationing) on the open ocean comes with risks, especially in treacherous conditions far from the shore with limited visibility should someone get lost at sea. There have been a number of IoT projects and products aimed at improving safety at sea, including the EU project LYNCEUS2MARKET (L2M) and In:Range by ScanReach. Launched in 2015 by a team of cruise ship owners and operators, ship builders, maritime equipment manufacturers, industry associations, and tech companies; L2M came up with several wearable devices, including a life jacket that locates passengers in an emergency situation.

During a maritime emergency, there is often limited personnel available to assist. With In:Range, crew members on a vessel or offshore installation wear low-powered smart wristbands that tether users to sensors located throughout and outside the ship. This keeps the crew accounted for, allowing people from fleet management, coastal services, rescue departments, insurance companies, etc. to locate them in real time and, if necessary, intervene with a targeted rescue operation. In addition to real-time location, In:Range can also act as a safety alarm, means of area access control, and man-overboard device. To protect sailors’ privacy, the wearer’s location is not tracked until an alarm is triggered by motions indicating stress or by the wearer herself.


Personal Blinkers

As I sit here writing this, despite having classical music blasting in my noise cancelling headphones, I’m distracted by the numerous phone conversations taking place in my office and especially by one coworker who paces while on the phone (you know who you are). This is why I’m rooting for a recent prototype developed by Panasonic’s design studio Future Life Factory. Wear Space – a curved, flexible strip that wraps around the back of the head and extends like a shield for your peripheral vision – is designed to help people focus by limiting noise and other distractions in busy work spaces and open-plan offices. Essentially, these “wearable blinkers” block off the wearer from his immediate surroundings, providing instant personal space. Fitted with noise-cancelling headphones to block out ambient sound, the Wear Space can also be adjusted according to the user’s desired level of concentration. As open office plans grow in popularity and remote working becomes a norm, a device like Wear Space could do very well. Panasonic hopes the technology will be able to cut users’ horizontal field of view by around 60%.

Did you know that noise can harm you at work? Each year according to OSHA, 22 million workers are exposed to potentially damaging noise on the job, so UK startup EAVE developed hearable tech to protect people’s hearing in the workplace. Consisting of a headset and cloud-based noise monitoring platform, the technology not only protects the wearer from excessive noise in loud industrial environments but also gathers data about onsite noise levels which is used to create a heat map of noise in the workplace. The system, launched earlier this year, is meant to prevent noise-induced hearing loss, tinnitus and other hearing-related conditions. In addition, it creates an audit trail for the organization in case of future occupational hearing loss claims.


In and Behind the Ear

According to IDC, the wearables category is expanding to include hearables and the enterprise hearables market in particular is growing, with solutions aimed at offices/shops as well as more industrial environments. A recent Bloomberg Businessweek article titled “The Future of Wearable Tech is Called a Hearing Aid” is all about Livio AI, a new product from longtime hearing aid maker Starkey. Described as “a hearing aid for people who don’t need hearing aids,” Livio AI are barely visible hearables that use tiny sensors plus artificial intelligence (AI) to selectively filter noise, track various biometrics (steps, plus soon heart rate, blood pressure and more vitals), translate 27 languages near instantaneously, and detect falls. With accompanying app Thrive, Livio AI wearers can also choose to amplify specific sound sources (ex. a business colleague sitting across from you in a busy restaurant). Starkey is pitching the platform to doctors and patients, with an expected price of around $2,500 to $3,000.

It’s not difficult to imagine how a discreet in-ear computing device could improve communication (enhance listening, eliminate language barriers) and increase safety (health tracking, equilibrium/fall detection) in the workplace. The ear is actually superior to the wrist as an ideal location for sensors, which explains why a number of smart headphone and hearable startups have been popping up; but why should augmented hearing benefit consumers and not workers, as well? Besides outputting great quality sound, hearables filter out sounds, provide more accurate vital sign data (heart rate, body temp, pulse oximetry, etc.) and might be used for biometric personal identification in secure workplaces. In fact, the NEC recently announced hearable technology that uses sound waves to identify someone based on the size and shape of that person’s ear. More invisible than a pair of smart glasses, hearables could also provide workers with instant, hands-free access to information via voice commands.

You may have heard of the Smart Cap; well, startups Bodytrak and Canaria have developed smaller hearable devices that, like the Smart Cap, monitor occupational fatigue. According to studies, workers suffering from fatigue are almost three times more likely to put themselves or a colleague in danger. Bodytrak’s non-invasive, in-ear device measures a worker’s core body temperature, heart rate (a great indicator of cognitive fatigue), V02 and motion. This data is then sent to a cloud-based analytics platform that provides early warnings to at-risk workers via the hearable. Canaria’s technology is worn behind the ear, next to the skin. It monitors blood oxygen levels and heart rate, can detect harmful gases, and alerts wearers when it’s time to take a mandatory break. Both hearables might be used by workers in harsh, remote environments (ex. a building site in wintertime), factory employees working extended hours during peak season, laborers maneuvering heavy machinery, even nurses with back-to-back shifts.

 

Image source: Panasonic

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 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.

In-flight VR, Smart Bands at the Resort, and AR Glasses for Tourists

Today, “every business is a tech business” and in every industry consumers’ digital customer service expectations are growing. A decade after the U.S. travel and hospitality industry emerged from the 2008 recession; industry players, including airlines, airports, cruises, hotels, and other travel brands, are feeling the heat to compete and earn the loyalty of a new customer base via emerging technologies.

Trends and Pain Points in Travel and Hospitality   

Shift in Target Demographics

Though Gen Y overtook Baby Boomers as America’s largest living generation in 2016, the demographic with the most purchasing power around the world today is millennials, and they don’t vacation like their parents. Travel brands need to both court and cater to millennials, who prefer to spend their money on experiences (like immersing themselves in another culture) over material objects and are more spontaneous and comfortable with tech than previous generations.

Competition

First it was online travel agents like Expedia and Priceline; then came Airbnb and VRBO—OTAs and the sharing economy have rocked the travel industry, altering distribution channels, taking business away from traditional industry players, and forcing airlines and hoteliers to compete online to win back customers. According to ADI, approximately 60% of all travel reservations are now made online despite Loyalty Rewards Programs for travelers who book directly through the airline or hotel. Another consequence of OTAs and millennials’ spontaneity is that the window between booking a ticket and boarding a flight is getting smaller, putting strain on travel and hospitality operations.

Heightened Consumer Expectations

We live in an experience economy, where it’s becoming critical for businesses to have customized offerings and personalized services. Millennials want to do something new and memorable on each trip but they also want personalized experiences and don’t mind sharing their data to receive customized travel recommendations. In a time when a single data breach can destroy a brand, travel companies must walk a fine line between capturing enough data to personalize services and respecting guests’ privacy and security. In addition to personalization, today’s consumers consider sustainability and wellness in their travel choices, expecting hotels to “go green” and have state-of-the-art fitness centers, healthy food and beverage options, even yoga classes.

Labor Gap

Within the leisure and hospitality sector, there are an estimated one million job openings in the U.S. alone. As companies struggle to attract and retain the right talent to fill the experience void, reduced immigration is impacting the supply of transient and hourly workers that have come to make up a large portion of the hospitality workforce. Moreover, recruitment for new job roles needed to incorporate the latest tech into the travel experience is proving difficult and high turnover is discouraging investment in skills development for new and existing employees.

A Testing Ground for New Tech

Historically, the travel industry has been quick to adopt new tech: In the late 1940s, before most consumers had a television set at home, hotels began to install TVs in the guest rooms. Travel companies were also among the first to leverage the World Wide Web to increase sales, with the first hotel websites launching in 1994; and one of the very first use cases for Google Glass came from Virgin Airlines in 2014. But the challenges above call for real implementations and dramatic digital transformation.

Applications for Immersive and Wearable Tech in Hospitality

Virtual booking

“Try-before-you-buy” shopping apps have become an early hit for augmented and virtual reality, especially for big-ticket items like furniture and real estate. Travel, too, is expensive and consumers need a lot of information before deciding to book. Virtual reality presents the ideal medium for selling an experience, giving travelers insight that no amount of text on a website or any number of customer reviews can match by allowing them to essentially preview their trip – from their seat on the plane to the view from their hotel and local attractions – before committing.

In 2017, Amadeus unveiled the first VR booking experience in which users shop for travel in a virtual world. Users can search for flights, review cabins, compare hotel prices, and book rooms all through a VR headset. And while you might think that as VR gets more and more immersive it will replace travel altogether, current research has found that visiting a destination in VR actually makes one more inclined to visit the real place. If VR hits critical mass at $199 per headset over the next few years, VR travel planning and booking may very well be one of the killer apps for the technology.

Marketing

Hospitality brands spend a lot on marketing. AR/VR is becoming a major differentiator in this area, as hotels themselves adopt the technology as a selling tool. Hundreds of hotels now offer virtual tours. For instance, Atlantis Dubai offers a virtual tour on its website so guests can explore the hotel’s luxury rooms and on-site experiences like swimming with dolphins from the comfort of home. Once on the website, consumers are more likely to book directly through the hotel, as well. In 2017, Marriot launched a VR tour of its meeting rooms, allowing corporate clients and event planners to virtually walk through its function areas from anywhere. During an on-site tour, one might even digitally augment the space to get a more realistic feel for a venue’s suitability. Palladium also uses VR, not to inform prospective guests but instead to educate travel agents about its properties. Palladium salespeople go around giving agents VR headset-enabled virtual tours so they can better sell the chain’s hotels to customers. Some hotels even offer on-site AR/VR experiences, usually smartphone-enabled, that both entertain guests and enlist them in the brand’s marketing efforts via social media sharing.   

Operations

There are a lot of moving parts in the travel and hospitality industry, requiring staff to be in constant communication in order to provide seamless customer service around the clock. Management and staff have traditionally kept in contact via two-way radios, a method prone to lost connections and poor audio quality. Looking for a better way to communicate, Viceroy Hotels turned to wearables: At the Viceroy L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills, hotel staff piloted Samsung Gear S3 smartwatches to manage guest requests and resolve incidents more efficiently than they could with a walkie-talkie or phone. The pilot showed response times going down from 3-4 minutes to just 60 seconds; the solution was also less intrusive, sending silent vibration alerts to the staff members best placed to serve a guest’s need. Houston’s Hotel Alessandra also uses Samsung smartwatches for fast and discrete communication among employees, improving the experience for both guests and staff.

Entertainment & Tour Guide

VR headsets are popping up in airport lounges, on flights, and in hotel rooms alongside other amenities. Qantas, for one, has experimented with providing virtual experiences and games on high-quality VR headsets to first-class passengers; and in 2015, Marriott launched its “VRoom Service,” whereby guests can order a Samsung Gear VR headset delivered to their room—a step up from streaming services and on-demand movies. The headsets come preloaded with “virtual postcards” that not only entertain but also sell users on new destinations (where they can stay in a Marriott hotel, of course).

Others are using mobile AR apps and VR headsets for guest engagement. For example, Holiday Inn created an AR app allowing guests to view virtual celebrities in the hotel through their smartphones; while at London hotel One Aldwych, a whiskey cocktail called The Origin comes with a VR headset showing how and where the whiskey was made—a truly unique cultural experience made possible by VR. Hotels and travel brands are also developing custom AR tour guide apps, like a mobile concierge that provides real-time, heads-up navigation and personalized recommendations for loyalty program members, and enhances sightseeing with digital information overlaid on the landmark itself. The Hub Hotel from Premier Inn in the UK does this with special maps on the walls of every room, which, when viewed through a smartphone, display information about local places of interest—an unexpected, value-added feature for the hotels’ guests.

Airlines and hotels can also adopt augmented reality smart glasses to enable flight attendants and hotel staff to personalize customer service, using facial recognition to greet guests by name and tapping into a customer resource management system, social media and other data sources to bring up information relevant to individual passengers.

Convenience

AR certainly provides convenience by supporting guests and passengers in their native language, showing them directions, etc. Below the neck, IoT (Internet of Things) wearables provide convenience, as well. Case in point: Disney’s MagicBand, one of the earliest and most successful (bespoke) wearable devices in the travel sector, widely used today in Disney theme parks as an all-purpose means of payment, admission and keyless entry for resort guests. In 2017, Carnival announced its Ocean Medallion, a small, waterproof device that can be worn or carried, enabling cruisegoers to embark the ship, enter their staterooms, shop, and make reservations. The Medallion works with Carnival’s Ocean Compass app, which displays personalized recommendations for every passenger with the help of 7,000 sensors installed throughout the ship. Likewise, Meliá Hotels has begun offering waterproof, Bluetooth-enabled smart wristbands by Oracle, which, in addition to serving as a payment method on the Spanish resort of Megaluf, also work at nearby participating merchants like Starbucks.

Training 

Compared to traditional teaching methods, immersive simulations have proven more effective for quick learning and retention of knowledge, which is why major corporations around the world are using AR/VR to train new employees and retrain core staff for new roles. In travel and hospitality, immersive tech can help prepare employees for exceptional scenarios that are hard (or undesirable) to train for in real life like diffusing an angry guest. Need to walk a team through new green housekeeping measures or alterations to the menu? Use VR.

In 2016, Best Western partnered with Mursion to develop a series of VR simulations for front-desk staff to practice interpersonal skills. According to the hotelier, the 60-minute virtual guest interaction training sessions contributed to a noticeable boost in guest satisfaction. Recently, luxury cruise line Seabourn worked with Pixvana to create a VR training solution to help wait staff quickly memorize the dining room’s 105 tables and 12 serving stations. Hilton has used VR with its corporate staff to build appreciation and empathy for the chain’s employees, having higher-ups virtually take part in routine operational tasks like cleaning a guest room and arranging a room service tray.

Conclusion

The convenience of wearables is appealing not just to millennials but to most modern consumers, as are enhanced experiences of physical spaces enabled by augmented and virtual reality. VR will surely become a popular way of shopping for hotels and AR a natural addition to sightseeing and other aspects of the travel experience (on-demand, in-context information). Early adopters in the travel industry are poised to define the competition, providing experiences to guests they cannot get at home, attracting new workers with brand new tech for training and carrying out daily tasks, empowering staff to provide superior, personalized customer service, and easily preparing employees for the roll out of new sustainability and wellness features.

*Learn more about emerging tech in the Travel & Hospitality industry at EWTS 2019: Hear from Blaire Bhojwani of Hilton Hotels, Andy Kozak of JetBlue, Jayson Maxwell of Six Flags, and more.

 

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 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and confirmed speakers, available on the conference website.

Insider Secrets to Adopting Wearables

Watch this throwback 2016 expert panel led by Upskill’s Brian Ballard, in which enterprise end users from Jacobs Engineering, Powerstream Inc., the AES Corporation, and Intel share their secrets to adopting wearables. Some key insights include referring to the people closest to the problem (i.e. the workers), getting them involved early in the process and allowing them to opt in; creating a partnership between the business and IT sides of your organization; and talking to the standards bodies for your industry from the get-go. In addition, don’t underestimate the impact on your company’s infrastructure, as content and information management are key challenges in this space, especially when it comes to AR.

Challenges of Enterprise Wearables, AR and VR: A Changing Landscape, Budget, Battery, and More

In this largely Q&A-driven panel discussion from last month’s EWTS 2018, Tacit’s Todd Boyd and members of the audience question IT leaders from Worthington Industries, HB Fuller, Ford, JetBlue and The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) on the cultural and technical challenges of adopting wearable technologies. Some of the challenges addressed include keeping people engaged, dealing with opponents and a constantly changing hardware landscape, budget and financing, battery life and back-end system integration. Watch now:

 

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 6th annual EWTS will be held September 17-19, 2019 in Dallas, TX. More details, including agenda and early confirmed speakers, to come on the conference website.


Augmented World Expo (AWE), the world’s #1 AR+VR conference and expo, returns to Santa Clara, CA May 29-31, 2019. Join us for the biggest AWE yet and help celebrate the show’s 10th Anniversary! Apply to speak and/or exhibit at AWE 2019on the event website.

Exoskeletons Get Real: The Ultimate Wearable Technology?

Exoskeletons are nothing new and far from science fiction; in fact, researchers began developing exoskeletons for military use as early as the 1960s. For the last decade, engineers have been exploring exoskeletons designed to augment human strength and other abilities for military, medical and industrial purposes. Over time, these devices have become less clunky and expensive (from over $100k to under $10k in many cases) as well as more specialized and powerful.

Arguably, exoskeletons, not AR/VR, are the current star of enterprise wearables. Today, real companies with the funds to do so are transforming workers’ productivity and safety by introducing even just a few exoskeletons on the job site or factory floor. Ford recently made the largest order of industrial exoskeletons to date, with ABI Research expecting the market to rise from 67.29 million to $1.76 billion by 2028—exoskeletons have arrived.


Exoskeletons find their sweet spot

Combining the power of robots with the intelligence and adaptability of humans sounds great, but the execution – designing machines that conform to how we’re shaped and the way we move – is challenging. How do you make a machine both lightweight and flexible, adaptable to a wide variety of body shapes and sizes? Nevertheless, there are now tool-holding (partial) exoskeletons, exoskeletons for back support and sitting comfortably in mid-air, and even full-body, sci-fi-looking powered exosuits.

No post about exoskeletons can fail to mention this major driver for the advancement of the technology: Workplace injuries. Exoskeleton development has evolved from military and medical applications to industry, where wearable robotics are finding their sweet spot. Legacy industries like manufacturing that are changing due to automation but still rely heavily on human input; industries like construction and shipbuilding in which productivity hasn’t risen in decades; and industries where awkward positions, repetitive motion, and overexertion are common and employers shell out billions on workers’ compensation are particularly ripe for exoskeleton technology.

Assembling, building, moving… the heavy-duty operations of industry in which workers are required to wield heavy power tools, perform overhead tasks, stand for long periods of time, etc. breed accidents, injuries and long-term musculoskeletal stress. The U.S. alone spends $21 billion on workplace injuries, the price tag of healthcare treatment and lost worker productivity. When you consider that a single rotator cuff surgery can take out a worker for up to seven months and cost employers up to $56,000, wearable robot suits don’t seem so crazy. And major industrial players and startups alike recognize the growing opportunity:


 The market

Where once there were a handful of companies working on industrial exoskeletons, the exoskeleton market today has become quite crowded. Here are some of the companies developing and selling partial or full-body, powered or unpowered exoskeletons:

Tool-holding

Lockheed Martin

The large defense firm has long been interested in human augmentation, mainly in the military arena. In 2014, Lockheed introduced its first industrial exoskeleton product FORTIS (currently $24,750). FORTIS, a passive (unpowered), lightweight exoskeleton that transfers loads from a standing or kneeling position to the ground, makes heavy tools like a giant power drill feel weightless to the operator. Lockheed also sells the FORTIS Tool Arm ($7,149), which reduces muscle fatigue to allow the use of heavy hand tools for long shifts.

Bioservo

Bioservo’s first commercial product, the SEM Glove contained sensors that detected the wearer’s actions and activated motorized support when needed to grasp objects. Based on the company’s patented SEM (Soft Extra Muscle) technology, Ironhand ($9,250) is Bioservo’s newest product and a successor to the SEM Glove. It supports grip-intensive tasks while collecting data to categorize risky use cases and can be worn under a normal working glove. Bioservo bills Ironhand as “the world’s first soft robotic muscle strengthening system.” The company has signed contracts with General Motors, Airbus, NASA, and others.


Support 

noonee

With the Chairless Chair ($4,360) by noonee, employees can create a comfortable, more productive workspace at any time. The lower-body exoskeleton is designed to prevent back pain for workers who spend a large part of the day standing by essentially allowing the wearer to lock in and sit in mid-air while doing her work. The Chairless Chair debuted on several manufacturing lines and is now in use globally by over 100 companies. 

Laevo 

The Laevo (approx. $2,000) is a passive back-support exoskeleton for workers who have to frequently bend forward and lift objects. It works by transferring force from the upper body through the straps and to the thighs, thereby reducing pressure on the user’s spine and back by up to 40%. Laevo describes wearing its exoskeleton as “just like” putting on “a coat”—it adapts to your posture so the wearer has a lot of freedom of movement.

StrongArm Technologies

StrongArm’s FLx ErgoSkeleton ($298) is a data-driven upper-body exoskeleton with sensors that monitor posture and movement, providing feedback to ensure the wearer conforms to OSHA safe lifting guidelines. The solution promotes good posture and safe lifting by encouraging the user to bend at the knees and pivot instead of twist. The V-22 ErgoSkeleton ($629) adds cords to the FLx model; these loop over the shoulders and attach to a worker’s hands to restrict arm movements in such a way as to automate proper lifting. The passive exoskeleton shifts weight from the weak areas of the body to the user’s legs and core.

SuitX

SuitX has three models of industrial exoskeletons – backX ($4,000), legX ($6,000) and shoulderX ($4,000) – individual modules that when worn together form the full-body MAX exoskeleton. With backX to help with lifting heavy loads, legX to support crouching for extended periods of time, and shoulder to alleviate overhead work; the full MAX system allows wearers to perform lower back-, leg- and shoulder-intensive tasks with less risk of injury.


Full-body

Sarcos Robotics (Raytheon)

Not yet commercially available, Guardian XO is a robust, powered exosuit that’s said to enable the wearer to lift up to 200 pounds without exertion or strain. The XO features “scaled dexterous end effectors” and force feedback, allowing highly precise tasks with heavy tools or components. Sarcos says the Guardian XO and Guardian XO Max are “coming soon,” and the company recently secured its second development contract with the U.S. Air Force. Sarcos has also formed X-TAG, an industry-focused Exoskeleton Technical Advisory Group, along with executives from Bechtel, BMW, and more.

Comau

MATE (Muscular Aiding Tech Exoskeleton) by Comau is a spring-based exoskeleton designed to ease the shoulder muscles and provide lightweight yet effective postural support during manual and repetitive tasks. Designed in partnership with ÖSSUR and IUVO, a spin-off of The BioRobotics Institute, along with input from factory workers; MATE will be available in December 2018.


New entrants

LG

Household name LG is about to unveil the CLOi SuitBot, which looks like a pair of robotic pants and supports mobility by enhancing the power of the user’s legs. The exoskeleton can work alongside LG’s other service robots as part of a more advanced smart workforce scheme, and it uses AI to learn and evolve over time by analyzing biometric and environmental data. LG hasn’t revealed a price.

Ottobock 

Ottobock is a German artificial limb manufacturer whose close competitor Össur helped Comau design MATE. Paexo is Ottobock’s new project, an upper-body exoskeleton that relieves the strain of repetitive overhead assembly work. Paexo has been tested on 30 Volkswagen plant workers and the automaker is considering using Paexo in series production.


The future of manual labor begins now: Use cases

Betting on the promise of wearable robotics to increase productivity and reduce injuries; a number of construction, manufacturing and logistics companies have begun testing and even deploying exoskeletons. Here are some of the more recent use cases:

Lowe’s

Lowe’s employees can spend up to 90% of their day lifting and moving bags of cement, buckets of paint, etc. So, last spring the home improvement retailer teamed up with Virginia Tech to develop a lift-assist exosuit that would make the workday easier. The result: A kind of harness-meets-backpack with carbon-fiber rods running down the back and thighs. The rods flex and straighten when the user bends or stands, absorbing energy that’s then delivered to the worker when needed. During a 3-month pilot, test subjects wore enjoyment-sensing headsets in addition to providing verbal feedback about the exosuits.

The promised benefits are myriad for Lowe’s: Improved customer service (store staff can fetch items for customers), reduced costs (fewer injuries, reduced insurance premiums), and even better recruitment.

Ford 

In 2017, four employees at a Ford plant in Missouri tried out the EksoVest by Ekso Bionics, an unpowered, adjustable exoskeleton vest that can help workers do things like install carbon cans on cars suspended above them at a rate of 70 cars/hour. The United Automobile Workers Union actually paid for the trial to see if exoskeletons could really reduce common injuries among autoworkers.

Ford has been interested in wearable robotics since 2011, particularly for preventing shoulder injuries, which take the longest to recover from. The ROI is there: If one $5,000 EksoVest lasts three years, the cost comes out to 12 cents/hour/employee. That’s around the same price as a pair of disposable gloves and far less than the cost of even just one shoulder injury.

Just last month following 16 months of testing, Ford went into deployment mode, ordering 75 EksoVests for employees all over the world. This is the largest order of industrial exoskeletons ever placed and the first step in Ford’s plans to launch exoskeletons in factories worldwide.  

The EksoVest provides up to 15 pounds of lift assistance and support (per arm) during the overhead tasks Ford assembly line workers perform millions of times a year. Additionally, Ford is testing a motion-tracking bodysuit and camera solution at one of its plants in Spain, with the goal of making data-driven modifications to workstations and vehicle production processes that reduce physical stress.

Boeing

For as long as Ford, Boeing has been experimenting with exoskeletons to address the problems automation can’t solve. Wiring a Boeing 777, for instance, a task so complex only a highly skilled human can perform it, is a perfect opportunity for an exoskeleton. What attracts Boeing to exoskeletons are not only rising insurance premiums but also the possibility of improving the lives of its technicians who train for years to do their jobs and whose absence or retirement would be a hit to the aerospace giant’s productivity.

Though still in the experimental phase, Boeing has been running pilots to match the right exoskeleton to the right type of work and studying years of safety data to see where injuries are most likely to occur. Boeing mechanics in South Carolina have actually gone through training on the EksoVest, as Boeing hopes to roll out the tech to more workers in 2019. Apparently, Boeing employees love the exoskeletons.


Challenges still ahead

For every new type of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) there is process of adoption, and it’s no different with exoskeletons. The wearable robotics space is evolving fast; prices will continue to fall and the exoskeletons themselves will become lighter and more powerful over the next three to five years, but it takes a lot of testing! A good sign is the interest of the ATSM International, a body that sets manufacturing standards and has created a special committee of 90 organizations focused on exoskeletons and exosuits. Just as walking in areas of a job site without the proper PPE is forbidden, one day workers on construction sites and in warehouses and manufacturing plants will be forbidden to operate tools without the appropriate exoskeleton.

 

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 9-11, 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. Tickets now available at www.aweeu.com.

 

Image source: Digital Trends

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

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

Below the Neck: Body- and Wrist-Worn Wearables in the Workplace

Watch this panel of thought leaders and practitioners from different enterprises share use cases of body- and wrist-worn wearables they’ve deployed in their organizations. You’ll see that below-the-neck wearable devices are being applied to both collect data from and push immediate feedback to workers:

 

 

Applications and Lessons:

In healthcare, wearable data is used to learn more about patients and improve care. With new possibilities of collecting data on human behavior, chronic conditions, etc. come new, never-before-seen challenges for those in medicine. How can wearable data be used – and more significantly, how should it be used – to change patient care, make better care decisions, coordinate care more effectively, and empower patients to care for themselves?

In other workplaces, wearable data helps identify hazards and keep employees safe. A small wearable radiation detector can ensure that astronauts stay below established exposure safety levels on space missions. Leidos is developing such a device for NASA, taking a commercial, off-the-shelf device and extending its capabilities to fit the user’s needs and limitations in space.

The EHS team at General Electric is focusing on highly hazardous processes across the company’s portfolio, exploring wearables from two angles: Body-worn wearables that can make hidden hazards more visible (ex. voltage or ergonomic sensors;) and those that can augment employees to do their jobs with less risk of injury, i.e. wearable robotics. After all, safer workers certainly get more work done, which goes to show that information-displaying smart glasses aren’t the only wearable technology that can aid productivity.

Exoskeletons that assist with strenuous tasks can reduce injuries on the job, but so, too, can ergonomic data from much smaller wearable devices. Caterpillar is using wearable data to find hot spots where poor ergonomics are hurting workers. An important lesson: You can anonymize the data and still improve safety–the data is more important for identifying those hot spots. The technology can provide immediate haptic feedback to condition users (without naming them;) or the information can be shared with users later on, letting them take ownership of the data and self-manage.

In addition to wearable sensors and exoskeletons, body-worn cameras, which can be used to record work progress, also fall into the “below the neck” category. This is very useful on a construction work site, an environment that’s rather volatile and constantly changing.

You cannot discuss the use of body- and wrist-worn wearables without addressing employee privacy, employee buy-in, IT and legal concerns. “Good will” – the intent to improve safety or make workers’ jobs easier – is not enough, which is why the EHS team at GE works very closely with data privacy and labor relations teams to really think through each use case. How do you get “boots on the ground” to wear the devices? By starting small even though the technology has the ability to do more, showing how employees personally benefit, and letting them see the information (transparency) and employ it themselves.

 

 

 

 

Consumer Wearables That Could Work For Your Business

For this article, I went shopping—online, that is. I’m an enterprise wearables expert, and I must admit I don’t know much about consumer wearables. I work out regularly but don’t own a fitness tracker, and haven’t worn my Apple Watch in months. But I suspect there is enterprise potential in many of the wearable devices available to consumers today, so I did some web browsing.

Consumer wearables fall into several categories, including brain-sensing headbands and smart jewelry. I searched for devices in each category that might be useful in enterprise settings. Keep in mind that I have not tried many of these wearables myself but assuming they deliver on what they’re advertised to do, here’s what I found:

 

Arm/Wristbands

Myo by Thalmic Labs

Myo is an armband that lets the wearer control other connected devices using gesture and motion. With SDKs available for Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, developers have a lot of freedom to build applications for Myo, beyond just controlling a smartphone or delivering a presentation. For instance, surgeons in Spain are using the device to navigate medical records while in the O.R. Think of it as a touch-free mouse for your technology.

RE-vibe by FokusLabs

RE-vibe is an anti-distraction wristband that uses gentle vibrations at strategic intervals to keep the wearer attentive and on-task. The technology “encourages mindfulness while studying or at work.” I can only picture RE-vibe entering the workplace as a personal device, not as an employer-provided wearable. Those of us sitting at a desk right now have certainly struggled to focus after a restless night (and with all the political news taking over our Twitter feeds.)

Steer by Creative Mode

Like the SmartCap, this wrist wearable is designed to prevent drivers from falling asleep at the wheel. Steer detects changes in heart rate and skin conductance, establishing a baseline when the user first puts on the device and giving a warning – first a slight vibration, then a gentle shock – when those metrics fall to a certain degree below that line. The shock increases serotonin, cortisol and other hormones to keep the driver awake. Steer could be used as an alternative to SmartCap by companies interested in avoiding fatigue-related accidents on the job.

TouchPoints

Myo offers control, RE-vibe helps you focus, and Steer keeps you awake and alert—all potentially useful at work. TouchPoints offer stress relief in as little as 30 seconds, which would undoubtedly appeal to many workers. These stress-relieving, wrist-worn “neuroscientific wearables” work by reducing physical sensations and shifting “fight or flight” to alter the body’s stress mechanism. Work is often stressful—you might take a break or practice meditation, or you could use TouchPoints for fast relief right on your wrist.

*

Patches and Clip-ons

Wearsafe by Wearsafe Labs

Wearsafe is “a modern-day, mobile panic button” that can be clipped onto any piece of clothing. By pressing it, Wearsafe uses the wearer’s smartphone to instantly send an alert to friends and family. Wearsafe Labs’ website has an enterprise section, because “safe employees are productive employees.” In its pitch to employers, the company describes Wearsafe as a “safety service designed to connect and protect your staff” in case of an accident, incident or crisis. The dashboard Wearsafe.help combines alert management, dispatch aid and incident reporting.

Lumo Lift by Lumo BodyTech

Lumo Lift is a “posture coach and activity tracker.” Once you connect the device to the Lumo Lift app on your phone, you attach it to your shirt and set a target posture; every time you slouch thereafter, Lumo Lift vibrates to tell you to sit straighter. Lumo does market its product as a tool for corporate wellness programs, noting that back pain is a top reason for missed workdays and doctor visits as well as a leading cause of disability claims. The company already counts Facebook, ExxonMobil and Nestle among its customers.

Upright GO and Upright PRO by Upright Technologies

This wearable posture trainer also vibrates to correct the user’s posture, but it’s only meant to be worn (attached to the back with an adhesive) for short “training sessions” of up to 60 minutes a day. Users can review their progress on the connected app, and hopefully improve their posture over time. As stated on Upright’s website, 86% of U.S. workers sit for the entire workday, increasing their risk of obesity, musculoskeletal problems, and diabetes. Employers might consider investing in the Upright PRO or the newer Upright GO (simpler, single-sensor device) to help employees reduce back pain.

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Smart/Connected Clothing

There are many smart clothing products out there including socks and high-fashion pieces, but sensor-equipped exercise clothes clearly dominate. These garments track motion, heart rate, body temp and location; monitor air quality and UV exposure; and even pay for things. I don’t see why similar technology could not be incorporated into standard work uniforms. There are smart construction vests and other PPE designed for industry, so why not smart nursing scrubs or maintenance uniforms?

AiQ Smart Clothing

This company makes a range of smart clothing items, including an electronic heating garment that keeps wearers warm (ThermoMan;) clothing that lights up to provide visibility in dark surroundings (NeonMan;) and anti-radiation textiles (ShieldMan.) There are certainly enterprise use cases for tracking or regulating workers’ body temperature and keeping them safe in dark or nighttime conditions.

Lumo Run by Lumo BodyTech

Lumo also makes a device that clips onto running shorts—not exactly smart clothing but what it does is monitor cadence, ground contact time, pelvic rotation and stride length. The accompanying Lumo Run app supports real-time coaching, sending feedback to the user’s headphones. A similar feature in enterprise might give a worker advice for moving with “good ergonomics” in real time, right in her ear.  

Samsung NFC suit

According to Wareable, you can purchase this smart suit in Korea under Samsung’s wearable brand The Human Fit. The connected business suit allows the wearer to do things like unlock his phone and digitally swap business cards. I don’t see this idea catching on in America but wearable-enabled networking (perhaps activated by a handshake) is something I can get behind.

There have been efforts to monitor workers’ movement on the job, from their posture (see above) to how they lift heavy items. There are many form factors for gathering biometrics; and though it may be more accurate to take some measurements from one part of the body over another, work clothes and uniforms are prime, underdeveloped real estate for wearable sensors.

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Hearables/Wireless Earbuds

The ear has become another popular body part for fitness tracking, as well as for controlling smartphone features, noise cancelling/augmenting, and real-time translation. Those last two applications have real enterprise potential, in noisy workplaces and multilingual work scenarios.

Here One by Doppler Labs

These wireless Here Buds combine “premium audio” for music and calls, noise cancellation, speech enhancement, and Siri/Google Now controls. The user can control how he or she hears the world via the connected app—with layered listening, manipulation of real-world volume and sound, and smart noise filters. Here One is pricey and likely to remain in the realm of personal wearables (there are cheaper noise-cancelling devices out there;) yet if the noise altering features are as sophisticated as claimed, these earbuds could be ideal for blocking unwanted, distracting or distressing sounds at work while “keeping” the noise essential to one’s task.

Did you know that high-level noise, like that from factory equipment or heavy machinery on a job site, can actually damage your hearing? Tens of millions of Americans are occupationally exposed to harmful noise, which not only puts them at risk of hearing loss but also heart disease.

Pilot by Waverly Labs

This “real-time translation hearable” consists of earbuds that translate between two users speaking different languages. In the first earpiece, noise-cancelling microphones filter out ambient noise from the wearer who is talking, while the second earpiece returns the translation to the other person in real time. Speech recognition, machine learning and speech synthesis technologies do the actual translating through the Pilot app. Pilot pre-orders come with free access to Romance languages.

Translate One2One by Lingmo

This AI-powered earpiece claims to translate spoken conversation and written text within 3-5 seconds without relying on Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connectivity. The solution uses IBM Watson’s Natural Language technology to help perform the translation, and currently supports English, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, German and Chinese. Both the speaker and listener must be wearing an earpiece.

Clik by Mymanu

Marriott is reportedly interested in these wireless smart earphones to help staff at its hotels communicate with guests. Clik uses voice recognition technology to near instantly translate live conversation in 37 languages. On the companion smartphone app, users can download 9 language packs, which can be synced and stored on the buds. Like the previous product, Clik doesn’t require a data connection.

There are plenty of customer service and international business scenarios where in-ear translation could greatly improve communication, service and productivity. Hotel staff might better serve foreign-speaking guests, negotiations with foreign business partners might go more smoothly, and colleagues speaking different languages might be able to better collaborate on projects, etc.

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Smart Jewelry

Personal Safety Wearables

Many of the personal safety wearables are designed for and marketed to women and the elderly, but the ones that follow – like Wearsafe – could potentially be worn by lone (travelling) workers such as in-home caregivers and utilities workers.

Nimb Ring

This smart ring works as a panic button, tracking the wearer’s location and sending an emergency alert when pressed through the Nimb app to a pre-managed group of responders.

Apple Watch

With the watchOS 3 update, Apple has added an SOS mode to its smartwatch. By holding down the side button, Apple Watch will attempt to call local emergency services either via cellular (if your iPhone is nearby) or over Wi-Fi. A text message can also be sent to preset SOS contacts after the call ends.

RapidSOS

This emerging technology startup recently announced partnerships with several wearable tech companies allowing them to link their wearable products to RapidSOS’s advanced emergency platform.

Smart Rings

The finger is another spot for activity tracking, viewing smartphone notifications, and contactless payments.

OURA

According to OURA’s website, our fingers provide more accurate activity tracking than our wrists. This “sleep tracker and wellness ring ” senses arteries in the fingers to provide insight into how users’ lifestyle choices affect their sleep and performance. Employers should be concerned about how much sleep employees are getting, especially in jobs where fatigue might threaten worker safety or lead to costly errors. Should truck drivers, for instance, show up for work when they’re overtired? What about your heavy machinery operators or store employees who need to make a good impression on your customers? Lack of sleep negatively impacts one’s daily performance, slowing productivity and increasing the likelihood of having an on-the-job accident.

NFC Ring

This smart ring can be used to unlock your mobile devices or even your door (if you have an NFC-enabled door lock.) It can share and transfer information such as links, photos and contacts, control smartphone applications, and make payments. As mobile payments become more mainstream, I wonder what will become of our plastic credit cards. What if instead of a store credit card, a retailer offered a store smart ring or another wearable payment method just for use in its stores. Visa has been experimenting with creating different types of wearable payments, including a ring and a wearable sticker; and Tappy Technologies is a company that embeds payment functionality in watches and jewelry. Tappy has its own smart payment ring and also provides its technology to jewelry companies to develop their own products.

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Brain-Sensing Wearables

This category appears focused on improving mental well-being, sleep and even dreams; stimulating the mind during tasks; or helping with memory and performance—all of which have obvious implications for our work lives. Most of the devices use EEG technology and are not medically approved.    

Thync Relax Pro

Thync bills its product as “the first consumer health solution for lowering stress and anxiety.” This small triangular device worn at the back of the neck uses low-level electrical stimulation to activate nerves affecting the brain’s adrenaline system. The simulation patterns trigger natural mechanisms that relax the wearer, and improve mood and sleep.

Lowdown Focus by Smith Optics

These smart sunglasses use brain-sensing technology to help athletes and other active users perform well under pressure through “mental training sessions.” The technology measures brain activity and provides cues to the wearer for becoming more calm, relaxed and focused.

Brainstation by Neuroverse

Neuroverse has apparently been working on Brainstation, a small oval wearable that adheres to the forehead, for several years now. The device puts the wearer through a series of “brain training games” designed to promote neuroplasticity, or the forming of new connections in the brain. EEG sensors detect certain neural markers to monitor the games’ effects on the user’s reaction times, attention span, memory and decision making. Neuroverse also opened its API for Brainstation VR, a version of its solution that would enable mind control of objects and actions in Virtual Reality and that works with game engines like Unity.

 

Final verdict: While it’s certainly advantageous to be aware of what’s available on the consumer side – especially if you have a specific EHS or employee well-being concern in the workplace – consumer wearables seem to enter and disappear from the marketplace at a much higher rate than enterprise devices. There are many crowdfunding campaigns and nearly all of the devices have to be paired with a smartphone app. My sense is that the consumer wearable tech market is a bit fickle because it’s still trying to understand the end user. As an enterprise, I’d worry about investing in 500 devices that may not have an ecosystem to support them within a year. Looking at consumer wearables, however, is less about finding actual products to use in your organization today than getting a sense of what wearable technologies are capable of and how wearable companies are attempting to augment and empower human beings.  

 

About EWTS Fall 2017:

The Fall Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place October 18-19, 2017 in Boston, MA is the leading event for wearable technology in enterprise. It is also the only true enterprise event in the wearables space, with the speakers and audience members hailing from top enterprise organizations across the industry spectrum. Consisting of real-world case studies, engaging workshops, and expert-led panel discussions on such topics as enterprise applications for Augmented and Virtual Reality, head-mounted displays, and body-worn devices, plus key challenges, best practices, and more; EWTS is the best opportunity for you to hear and learn from those organizations who have successfully utilized wearables in their operations. 

photo credit: oooOOC Ringly Launch Collection 01 – LR via photopin (license)