End Users Share Real Challenges of Wearable Tech Software

Finger Food Studios’ Graham Cunliffe leads a panel discussing the current state of the enterprise wearable market and the challenges of deploying business-ready wearable applications. Graham is joined by Caterpillar’s Jeff Lind, Southwest Airlines’ Chris Grubbs, Walmart’s Steven Lewis and United Technologies’ Peggy Wu. They discuss the considerations that help an organization determine appropriate software solutions. Common pain points include the scalability and portability of solutions across devices and the relative lack of off-the-shelf solutions. The panelists guide us through resolving functionality gaps for end users, the difficulties of establishing and navigating software partnerships with vendors, and the handling of data within the enterprise for seamless integration across digital platforms.

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.

Build a Culture of Bottom-up Innovation and More Advice for Adopting AR/VR and Wearables

In this video from last month’s Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit in Austin, Upskill’s Brian Ballard leads early wearable tech adopters from Toyota, Duke Energy, Merck and Southern Company in a discussion around strategies for accelerating an organization’s wearable journey. Though the panelists represent very different operating environments; they all agree that an agnostic approach to hardware, end user input and feedback, having systems of bottom-up innovation in place, line-side support during rollout, and room to fail are key components to successful adoption. Enjoy this first-hand advice available nowhere else but EWTS:

 

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.

Interview with Sam Murley, EHS Digital Acceleration Leader at General Electric

With workplace injuries and accidents costing U.S. employers alone over $60 billion a year, it’s not surprising that safety has emerged as a key productivity-boosting and cost-saving application for wearable technologies and other emerging tech. I spoke with Sam Murley, EHS Digital Acceleration Leader at General Electric, about how GE is currently piloting and deploying body-worn sensors, exoskeletons, AR/VR, and more along with Sam’s vision for the future of EHS. Sam has been an inspiring thought leader at several Enterprise Wearable Technology Summits–don’t miss his case study “EHS 2.0 and The Predictive Digital Model” this October in Austin at EWTS 2018!

 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

E: To start, could you provide us with a little background on yourself and your career, and what you do at GE?

S: I’m the EHS Digital Acceleration Leader at GE and oversee the innovation and emerging technology portfolio for environment, health and safety (EHS) . Our EHS innovation portfolio focuses on incubating the exploration and accelerating the adoption of emerging technologies and wearable devices through a Pilot-to-Deployment process. The goal is to eliminate certain hazards and risks within work environments, increase safety in general, increase operational excellence, and drive efficiency to give time back to frontline EHS teams through digital means.


E: Can you give us an example of a wearable tech pilot or idea that you ran by employees and got off the ground?

S: We have roughly 2,000 wearable devices being evaluated or piloted at this time in addition to wearables that are being deployed. They fall into 6 technology categories: Smart eyewear/heads-up displays; exoskeletons and ergonomic sensors; industrial hygiene monitoring IoT devices; lone worker management devices and platforms; hazard-sensing bands; and robots and drones that can perform hazardous inspections while keeping someone safe on the ground. We have nearly 65 pilot programs running globally, supporting almost 170 individual teams.

Something really fresh and about to make it past the pilot stage are ergonomic sensors. The tech allows EHS to do what it does today but takes it from pen and paper to a sensor and connected system in order to understand who’s at most risk and why, who needs coaching or intervention—you can’t do this as effectively by watching someone over the course of a month and recording the data by hand. With wearable tech, you can do it in 24 hours.

Say John Doe was at a critical safety score nearing a back injury last week: We made changes in the work environment and his safety score went back up. Or, maybe it continued to trend down, giving EHS insights to try a form of mechanical intervention such as an exoskeleton. 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.


E: So, how do employees react? How do you protect employee data?

S: It is important and absolutely necessary to manage the risks that new technology can introduce.  In general, for every technology we evaluate and ultimately use, we take it through a comprehensive and thorough data privacy and labor relations review. We partner with global and regional compliance teams and have a self-service innovation hub where business leaders, EHS teams, and employees can learn more about the different technologies, join a pilot, or learn how to use deployment ready wearables.


E: You mentioned robots for inspection. How can robots increase safety and productivity and for what types of use cases and tasks?

S: A few use cases come to mind such as confined space entry, where work is performed at heights, and hazardous inspections. Instead of having a worker perform a visual inspection inside a large tank, EHS can deploy tracked and aerial drones, sending the companion robot into the environment with a front-facing camera that can be controlled and viewed from any remote location—the human is still making the decisions but is now augmented by the robot. If there are harmful hazards workers could be exposed to, it might be a good opportunity to introduce a robot, something that crawls or has a magnetized track (think of working at heights). With exoskeletons, the question is “Where’s the less hazardous work being performed consistently or in more repetition?” A welder for example who experiences high shoulder fatigue at the end of his shift might benefit from the use of a shoulder exoskeleton. It just comes down to the hazards and how often the task is performed.


E: Is there any one major problem or obstacle you encountered and successfully worked through?

S: Yeah, and we’re continuing to work through it: Deployment. When you have something that has been evaluated and piloted by hundreds of users, when does that just become the norm? It’s making the transition collectively, looking at it not as emerging technology but as off-the-shelf digital PPE (personal protective equipment). These are things that can save lives today, just as your insulated gloves would. That’s a big leap, but we’re doing it at GE.

These technologies don’t live in labs; they’re ready to go. The obstacle lies in how you communicate that. The effort of taking it to true deployment involves essentially running an internal marketing campaign with commercials and launch kits. You have to build awareness, find stakeholders, understand where the tech should go and who to introduce it to after the pilot. This new product introduction (NPI) is just as, if not more, important than your pilot.


E: I think a few years ago it was how do I create a proof of concept, how do I pilot, and now it’s how do I scale, which is a good sign. So, as far as the different devices you’re testing and using, how do you find these solutions?

S: All sorts of ways: Connecting with folks at events like EWTS or AWE, through industry organizations, with Google alerts, and by benchmarking and sharing tech with other organizations. We’re always on the lookout for new startups, trying to link up with companies coming into the space. Behind that it’s “Okay, as a company what are the top 10 EHS issues we’re trying to solve? Let’s take the data we have and use it as a compass to find the right solutions.


E: How do you measure or determine the success of incorporating new technologies at GE?

S: What we look for is the ability to quantify that the technology is actually reducing the likelihood of injuries and/or generating more time (reducing the burden of managing risks) and using data to understand the impact. We can reduce 10 ergonomic injuries this year, but what does that mean and what, then, is the ROI of doing a broader investment?


E: Are you looking at AR+VR for EHS or is it still futuristic?

S: Definitely. From a corporate EHS side, we’re looking at it in terms of how to transfer knowledge, how to modernize training packages and content to make it more impactful and increase retention. That’s where true AR and VR make a lot of sense—digitizing training, streamlining the knowledge transfer from systems and records into the work environment, and transferring domain expertise from the more experienced workforce to create content for the junior workforce.


E: Are you using VR to train for dangerous situations that are hard to simulate in real life?

S: Yes, for electrical safety. We’ve got a project going on right now that takes an operator through a complex and highly hazardous electrical safety procedure, showing him the risks in a virtual but realistic way. Digitizing the outcomes of those high hazards and visualizing it to the end user really sticks when workers go out into the real-world environment.


E: Do you think you’ve found your killer application or are you still looking?

S: I don’t know if it’s quite one thing. A system that can do a couple of things would provide immense value. Something like smart eyewear that gives the user access to content during a repair and lets him or her pipe someone in from halfway around the world when encountering a problem. Something that alerts me, as a worker, to unknown energized equipment around me (a voltage sensing band) and also helps determine operationally why one workforce is being exposed to a danger while another doing the same task isn’t. Is it training or malfunctioning equipment?

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 and do data analytics. Those are killer platforms and there are a few out there that we’re using right now.


E: What is the future of wearable technologies at GE and in EHS in general?

S: In the very near future the technology will mature and we’ll completely digitize the way risks are managed. I think everything is going to have ‘smart’ in front of it. I mean we even have smart safety shoes now, hazard vests, safety glasses, hard hats…Everything is being digitized. 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 (0 injuries and accidents).


E: What would be your advice to EHS managers in smaller organizations just beginning to look at different emerging technologies like wearables?

S: The great thing about coming in new today is there is so much that has already been done for you to leverage. It’s important to start with the problem: What are your critical injury categories at a site, regional and organizational level and then connect the dots to technology solutions. With any new idea, there will probably be someone out there working on it who may have a solution in place, so don’t be afraid to partner externally. In sum, have a plan: work from your problem statement first; leverage what’s been done in the past; and ensure you are able quantify the impact of new technology through existing and new data insights.

 

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 #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.

 

Image Source: Seeking Alpha

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:

3 Things You Should do When Preparing Your Organization for Enterprise Wearables

Last week, Chris Croteau, General Manager of Head-worn Devices at Intel, and Jay Kim, Chief Strategy Officer of Upskill (formerly APX Labs), shared a lot of juicy information in the webinar “What’s Next: Preparing Your Organization for Enterprise Wearables.” Here are three takeaways:

  1. Know where you’re coming from to get to where you’re going

Chris and Jay kicked off the webinar by reflecting upon Industry 3.0, the first phase of digitizing the industrial base in which we began the transition from manual-based records to digital ones. Data was incorporated into systems, which allowed for tracking and analytics but also created “islands of information” and “disparate systems”—challenges that wearables and AR interfaces address.

To understand the promise and opportunities for wearable technology in your business, it’s necessary to understand the challenges that came out of the revolution that preceded the one we are witnessing today. Wearables are incorporating human beings – the industrial workforce – into this next wave, transforming how workers interact with information from those systems of record in real time via a medium or form factor that doesn’t cause disruptions.

  1. Start with structured information within your current systems of record

Your current systems of record (ERPs like MES, WMS, FSM, PLM, KMS, etc.) are a great place to start. Your workers are already accessing the information stored within those systems, just most likely not in a convenient or real-time manner. Deliver the same information (corresponding to existing workflows and processes) in a new medium like Recon Jet Pro smart glasses.

To do this, you’ll need software like Upskill’s Skylight platform, which provides the “connective tissue” between the systems of record enterprises already use and the next evolution in workforce enablement and management. Not all data, however, is created equal.

SORs contain different types of information, some structured (like the information stored in a WMS) and some unstructured (ex. diagrams, PDFs.) Structured information is best suited to be delivered to your workforce today via smart glasses, while PDFs would have to be restructured to be made consumable through wearable tech. New data captured by smart glass technology in the field can be integrated into the SOR, as well.

  1. Take a layered approach to security

According to Jay, security is one of the most frequently-cited reasons why a wearable pilot doesn’t transition into meaningful deployment for an organization. But it is a mistake, he said, to focus just on the devices and operating systems; the right course is to take a more holistic approach to securing wearables.

Multiple layers of security must be present:

  • The devices have to be secured from a physical perspective, of course
  • The OS and application running on the device must be secured (and the user should be limited in what he or she can do/access with the technology)
  • The network, integration layer connecting the technology to your existing systems of record, and your IT infrastructure—all have to be secured.

There’s hope, though! As Chris recalled, just a few years ago standard mobile device management tools did not cover smart glasses and other wearables, but now a number of solutions do support wearable devices. And as the demand and pressure to use wearable tech in the enterprise increases, management solutions and protocols will be adapted, just as they were for mobile phones.

Watch the full webinar – available on demand – now, and catch Chris and Upskill’s Brian Ballard at EWTS next month.

 

About EWTS 2017:

The Spring Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place May 10-12, 2017 in San Diego, California 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. 

Upright’s Pilot Studies Demonstrate how Wearables Increase Office Worker Productivity

Written by Special Guest Blogger Thomas Dawidczyk, Analyst, Lux Research

What They Said

Upright partnered with Ernst & Young Israel to study the link between posture and productivity. The study used Upright’s adhesive posture monitoring wearable that incorporates haptic feedback to improve posture and alleviate lower back pain. After a few weeks using Upright’s device, 75% of the 31 Ernst & Young employees in the study experienced improved posture and decreased back pain. Over half of the participants felt more alert and productive at work due to their improved posture. Additionally, 85% of participants became more aware of their posture and 71% of participants felt more confident when they had good posture. Employees were surveyed about the effects of using Upright on back pain, productivity, and posture throughout the survey. To improve posture, the employees trained two to four times a week for six weeks starting out with just five minutes a day. They used Upright while sitting at their desk, eating lunch, or attending a meeting.

What We Think

Upright has performed other case studies with SAP Software Solutions and Siemens. In all cases, these companies have a large percentage of their workforce that sits in front of computers for a majority of the day and while these results are promising, the solutions are generally not adopted long-term. This adoption problem is not unique to Upright and plagues most wearable devices. One way to achieve sustained adoption may require offering virtual rewards or introducing a gamification.

Preventative and proactive approaches to workplace safety can come in different form factors (see the report “A Sensor a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: How Digital Technology is Keeping Workers Safe”). Employers continue to look to improve on traditional safety protocols, and some have already started to realize the potential of digital solutions, but many are hesitant to buy in due to the implementation cost, worker privacy concerns, and complexity of integration with existing processes. As clinicians and doctors continue to see some benefit to wearables, adoption and retention will continue to increase. The average direct cost of a back injury stands at $45,000, and indirect costs associated with loss of productivity, injury investigation, and training of new workers, for example, can amount to $90,000. So as companies become accustomed to wearables in the workplace, look at greater adoption of posture sensors, especially as companies see the added benefits of productivity gains.

 

Thomas Dawidczyk is an Analyst that leads the Wearables Intelligence service at Lux Research.  Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

 

About EWTS 2017:

The 3rd annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place May 10-12, 2017 in San Diego, California 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. 

Join the Enterprise Wearable Technology Community (LinkedIn Group)

Mixed Reality in the Warehouse

Written by Special Guest Blogger Trever Ehrlich, Creative Solutions Manager, Kenco Innovation Labs

This morning I experienced several scary safety incidents in a warehouse. A container of strong chemicals leaked, burning the hands of one of the employees. Nearby, I also found an overloaded power strip had started smoldering. To top it off, one of the welding tanks was left carelessly uncapped, resulting in a small fire that was fortunately extinguished quickly.

I removed my HoloLens headset, thankful it was only a simulation.

In my experience, most discussions about mixed reality start with a discussion of definitions. If you’re not quite sure about the differences between augmented, mixed and virtual reality, check out BrainXchange’s informative blog on the subject. Mixed reality, to quote the article, can be defined as “interactive holograms integrated into the user’s real world.”

Our journey with mixed reality began a year ago when we acquired the Microsoft HoloLens during their first wave of developer releases. My experience with mixed reality is mostly limited to the HoloLens, so at the risk of sounding like a Microsoft rep, I will refer to it heavily, though I’m excited to see other vendors like ODG and Vuzix wading into the technology.

Mixed reality is such a new research space that a device like the HoloLens is like an expensive lump of clay – the demo apps are amazing, but the possibilities are still mostly unexplored, limited by the imagination. We’ve had some failures along the way, found what worked and what didn’t, and are excited about the possibilities!

We’ve studied using the HoloLens for several applications, including remote assistance, warehouse layout and traffic flow, marketing, and safety training.

  1. Remote Expert Assistance

For workforces that are widely distributed, corporations often spend huge sums to fly their SME’s (subject matter experts) to various locations to conduct training or to troubleshoot issues. GoToMeeting is great in the office, but what about a broken piece of equipment out in a warehouse 50 miles outside of a major metropolitan area?

Augmented reality devices – think Google Glass – have long had built-in cameras which allow an expert to remotely assist and diagnose issues. Mixed reality, however, adds an entirely new dimension of interaction, allowing the remote assistant to reach into your space.

We recently had a mechanical failure on a complex robot we have used in our fulfillment lines. Instead of flying in an engineer, we slipped on the HoloLens at headquarters and started a conversation with the supervising manager on the warehouse floor using Skype. Not only could he look at the robot in real-time, but he could mark up our 3D space, circling problems or placing floating arrows next to specific hardware parts. He could also “push” wiring diagrams or directions, placing them virtually on our walls to reference while we worked!

  1. Layout and Traffic Flow

One of the great things about the HoloLens is the tight partnership Microsoft has with Unity, a game development platform. Even though we don’t develop games, the software is fantastic for easily setting up virtual environments that follow the laws of physics, with realistic object movement and interaction.

As a test, I was able to quickly build a miniature-sized warehouse. We could see how this would be useful to prospective clients; seeing a top-down view of a 3D warehouse, scaled down to virtually sitting on a boardroom table, is very impressive! At a click of a button, a swarm of workers and forklifts could be released, all traveling through the maze of the warehouse like so many ants. Traffic flow was interesting to watch, and bottlenecks quickly became apparent.

  1. Sales Presentations

Picture a salesperson showing a prospective client the latest office furniture designs. Unless the client has access to a showroom, the furniture is probably purchased based on some images in a catalog or website. With mixed reality, the client could select the pieces of furniture from a virtual catalog, then drag and drop the item into real space, allowing them to walk around and see the product from all sides.

Some of our operations extend outside the four walls of the warehouse, delivering product to customers on a trial basis. How much work would it save if the customer could experience the product virtually without the labor and expense of physically delivering a demo?

Lowes is already doing something similar to this with their Hologram Experience. In special showrooms, while wearing the HoloLens, the customer can see and explore virtual kitchens, switching out different appliances, counter tops, cabinets, and colors on demand.

  1. Training

Remember my “dangerous” experiences in a virtual warehouse? For our company, we’ve found the best fit for mixed reality seems to be in the realm of employee training. Warehouses are required to provide their employees with regular training on many topics, mostly related to safety. This training is typically a classroom-style session using PowerPoints – and we all know how exciting slide shows are!

The use of mixed reality allows multiple employees to enter virtual warehouses together where they can physically walk around and explore various safety hazards, learn about OSHA requirements, and experience the consequences of unsafe warehouse practices – accidents, spills, fires, and explosions, to name a few – all in a safe environment. Education research has shown the more human senses are engaged in learning, the greater will be the impact and retention of that information.

I am sold on the mixed reality format. It is so much more immersive and impactful than simple “flat” augmented reality displays, especially since it is aware of the user’s surroundings and can provide a spatially accurate experience. Virtual reality is great for gaming and simulations, but in our warehouse environments, we do not wish to block out the wearer’s view of the real world around them. Virtual reality users often experience disorientation and headaches. Mixed reality brings the virtual world to the user, immersing them in amazing experiences, without having to leave the familiarity of the real world.

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Kenco provides integrated logistics solutions that include distribution and fulfillment, comprehensive transportation management, material handling services, real estate management, and information technology—all engineered for Operational Excellence. Woman-owned and financially strong, Kenco has built lasting customer relationships for more than 60 years. Kenco’s focus is on common sense solutions that drive uncommon value. Also, connect with Kenco on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and the Kenco blog.

 

* Trever will be participating in a hands-on VR workshop this May at EWTS 2017, along with other leading innovators from Pearson, John Deere, and Martin Brothers, as well as Thomas Furness, the Grandfather of VR/AR. Don’t miss “Beyond Gaming and Entertainment: Leveraging Virtual Reality in the Enterprise.”

 

Beyond Smartphone Clones: How Wearables Deliver Actual Value and Reshape Tomorrow’s Supply Chain

Written by Special Guest Blogger Noa Ghersin, Wearables Analyst, Lux Research

 

Lux Research recently held a webinar on the topic of how to build and identify good wearable solutions. The “Beyond Smartphone Clones: How Wearables Deliver Actual Value and Reshape Tomorrow’s Supply Chain” webinar can be downloaded here. Key takeaways from the presentation are described below.

 

Where most wearable electronics have gone wrong

Since the introduction of wearables, these devices have acted as a supplement to or extension of smartphones. However, with the likes of the Apple Watch and Fitbit – today’s most iconic wearables – being crappy versions of the smartphone, it is no surprise that wearables are viewed today as little more than nice-to-have gadgets. Moreover, developers of these solutions have witnessed low sales and even drops in stock. Therefore, there is a need to re-think how to go about building wearable devices. 

Beyond smartphone clones: What good wearable electronics actually look like

Few wearable electronics are starting to deliver real value to users; from enhancing athletic performance, improving working efficiency and safety, to facilitating effective and convenient wellness programs. It is those wearables that look to augment the human – whether it be by improving volleyball training like Vert, helping workers manage their fatigue while on the job like SmartCap, or alleviating back pain through posture coaching like Upright  – that have the potential to become truly valuable and witness success in the long-run. However, even among solutions that augment the human there are varied levels of “good.” Wearable solutions that are truly valuable and effective are those that sense well, analyze well, and make it easy to act on the insight they generate. 

Applying the formula: How to turn a wannabe-smartphone wearable device into a compelling offering 

We take Fitbit’s device as a case study for how this framework – sense, analyze, and act – can be applied to transform a non-compelling offering into an effective solution that consumers will actually want to use. Specifically, we suggest how Fitbit could become a valuable weight loss device by pairing it with other solutions (see figure below). By taking on Healbe’s automatic calorie intake tracking capabilities, for example, Fitbit will know both how many calories its users burn as well as consume. By taking on Habit’s abilities to recommend biology-based personalized nutrition, Fitbit will be analyzing information that will be valuable to the user. Finally, by partnering with a device like Pavlok, which helps users abandon their unhealthy habits and reach their goals, Fitbit’s solution could become a compelling offering that will provide long-term value to its users. Altogether the new, re-imagined offering provides a more effective, personalized, and ultimately – compelling – solution.

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Looking towards the future: What will happen when we sense well, analyze well, and also nail the “act” stage 

The shift to sensing well, analyzing well, and making it easy to act on insights will impact players along the entirety of the value chain, from materials and components developers to device integrators and even consumers. The shift to making wearables that sense well will necessitate development of new sensors, ones that can sense better, faster, and noninvasively. This will give sensors developers more leverage over device integrators. The need to also analyze well will bring along the emergence of companies who do just that – analytics for wearables. This will give device integrators the luxury of making the choice between building or buying analytics capabilities, but will also create more competition. Finally, the shift to making the “act” step easy on the user will require incorporation of new feedback modalities (e.g. haptics) as well as of new behavior augmentation techniques (e.g. penalization, gamification). As a result, wearables will become valuable for all types of consumers, independent of the level of specialization.

 

Noa Ghersin is an Analyst at Lux Research who leads the Digital Health and Wellness team. Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

 

About EWTS 2017:

The 3rd annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place May 10-12, 2017 in San Diego, California 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. 

Join the Enterprise Wearable Technology Community (LinkedIn Group)

Fitbit Manages to Show Corporate Wellness Effectiveness but Solution Still Lacking

Written by Special Guest Blogger Reginald Parris, Wearables Analyst, Lux Research

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Fitbit released a set of data to combat skepticism surrounding how wearable activity trackers actually improve health. The Fitabase Research Library lists more than 170 studies that have used Fitbit devices in one place. The company also sponsored a study by Springbuk that examined the return on investment of workplace wearables and found that the average reduced health care costs of employees was about $1,300 per person. The study followed 2,689 individuals over two years, including a control group and 866 employees who opted in and received partially subsidized Fitbits. Of those who opted in, 266 used their Fitbit for at least half of the program, and these users’ health care costs decreased by 46%. Amy McDonough, Vice President of Fitbit Group Health, said that the studies were “looking at everyone from ‘low-steppers’ – around 6,600 steps per day – to those stepping beyond the recommended 10,000 steps per day, and they are all getting a decreased health care cost.”

Although Fitbit’s corporate wellness study appears to demonstrate a promising role for wearables in lowering employee health care costs, there are three reasons why the company’s reported figures from its latest study may be misleading.

  • Non-randomized control trial. Of the 2,689 individuals who participated in the study, the 866 employees who opted into the Fitbit group were compared with a non-Fitbit control group that consisted of participants who had similar ages, health conditions, and genders. While the study does compare Fitbit users to non-Fitbit users, those who opted to be part of the Fitbit group are more likely to be active individuals than those who did not opt in within the control group.
  • Unexplained health care savings in control group. While the study showed 22.5% in health care savings for the Fitbit user group, there was also an unexplained drop of 9.3% in health care costs for the non-Fitbit control group.
  • Difference in user activity skewed result of average health care savings. About 350 participants who wore a Fitbit for at least 274 non-consecutive days were the participants who saw a big reduction in medical costs. Participants who used the Fitbit for fewer than 274 days saw a less significant reduction in medical costs. Fitbit users who were more active, stepping beyond the recommended 10,000 steps, raised the average health care savings of the Fitbit group.

While Fitbit’s study shows that its corporate wellness solution can play a role in reducing employee health care costs, other developers offer more compelling corporate wellness solutions that may contribute to a greater return on investment. Fitbit’s current corporate wellness solution consists of a program that recommends that every participant take 10,000 steps a day to improve their personal health. Other solutions often incorporate a common element, coaching, and target specific problems to provide personable insights for the user. Upright has a device that uses haptic feedback to improve posture and alleviate lower back pain along with a smartphone application to track progress. Some companies, like Omada Health and Blue Mesa Health, which target individuals predisposed to chronic diseases like diabetes, utilize wearable activity trackers in addition to wireless scales and personal health coaches to help users better understand their health choices in addition to keeping track of progress. Another example is Biobeats, which analyzes information from wearables and smartphones to identify stress and provide relaxation exercises. If Fitbit wants to offer a more effective corporate wellness solution, it should consider incorporating a coaching element in its solution to target specific problems, and partner with companies like PhysIQ so that it can provide more personable insights for its users. Those looking to develop corporate wellness solutions should look for options that include activity trackers that are combined with coaching or an outreach program to provide better insight for employees.

 

Reginald Parris is a Research Associate at Lux Research. Lux Research provides strategic advice and ongoing intelligence for emerging technologies. Leaders in business, finance and government rely on Lux to help them make informed strategic decisions. Through their unique research approach focused on primary research and their extensive global network, they deliver insight, connections and competitive advantage to their clients.

 

About EWTS 2017:

The 3rd annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2017 taking place May 10-12, 2017 in San Diego, California 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. 

Join the Enterprise Wearable Technology Community (LinkedIn Group)