Wearable and Immersive Tech and the Female Workforce

In the three to four years since the release of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, the number of VR headsets available on the market has grown. Millions of VR headsets have been sold and PwC expects an installed base of 55 million active VR users by 2022. I work in XR, organizing events and writing about AR and VR for my livelihood and yet, unlike some of my male peers, I purchased my very first piece of VR hardware just this year with the release of Oculus Go.

Go was the first headset I put on that was relatively comfortable, and no wonder: Women were behind its design. Oculus’ Charmaine Hung, Caitlin Kalinowski, Rachel Franklin and Reina Shah put their past experiences with frustrating VR hardware into a physical design that’s more appealing to female VR users than its predecessor (content is another story). Go is untethered, relatively lightweight, a pleasing dove gray in color, and lined with the same material used in women’s bra straps.

A world designed by and for men:

The Oculus Rift, of course, provides a much more powerful, high-end VR experience than the Go. I’d love to own one (never mind the computer requirements), but the headset’s just too heavy for me. To keep the device from falling down and myself from having to constantly readjust, I’m forced to hold it up with my left hand or else tilt my head and neck slightly up, which limits the amount of time I can stand to spend in VR. It’s not just the Rift: I’ve tried on haptic gloves that were too large for my hands and gotten my hair caught in the HoloLens’ adjusting mechanism, not to mention how ridiculous I feel wearing the devices, making me less eager to try these new experiences in public.

There are plenty of examples of apps and tools that have been designed in ways that inhibit use by women and/or outright neglect factors that disproportionately affect female users. “Patriarchal coding” can be found in technology, buildings, public transportation, consumer products, and even life-saving medical devices. For instance, temperature regulation in office buildings still accords with standards set over 50 years ago for a 154-pound man. Since men have faster metabolic rates than women, female workers are more likely to freeze in the office, which studies show negatively impacts productivity. (Imagine if due to lower productivity, a woman got passed over for a job promotion that went to her male colleague instead!) Even cars were designed for decades to be safer for men than women, with industry regulations permitting automakers to use just one crash test dummy representing the average male in vehicle safety testing.

The point is that there are real physiological and lived experiential differences between men and women; and in the case of technology worn intimately on the human head and body in the workplace, those differences can alienate the female workforce.


 “That’s a woman’s job:”

In 2016, women made up:

  • 90% of registered nurses
  • 79% of elementary and middle school teachers
  • 61% of accountants and auditors
  • 35% of supply chain workers
  • 29% of the manufacturing workforce
  • 24% of the transportation and utilities workforce
  • 16% of architecture and engineering professionals
  • 13% of the mining workforce
  • 9% of the construction workforce

Though women make up nearly half the labor force (46.9% in 2017), they’re underrepresented in certain industries—in particular, the skilled trades affected by an aging workforce like manufacturing, logistics, construction and utilities. This is problematic, as those sectors desperately need to find and train the next generation of workers and can’t afford to ignore half the population. In business in general, women’s participation in the workforce is more than a social issue; it’s an economic one, too, with researchers finding that barriers to women in the workplace are stifling the growth of the U.S. economy. Whether it’s a historically male-dominant industry in need of a public image makeover or one in which the gender pay gap and unfavorable employment policies (ex. no paid maternity leave) are turning women away; the future economy and growth of the workforce depend upon improving job prospects and working environments for women.


Physiological differences between the sexes:

Of her time at a trade show, Adi Robertson (writing for The Verge) recalled a much-hyped virtual reality headset that was too loose around her head even when tightened all the way, as well as a motion control ring that left a quarter-inch of space between her fingers and the hardware. Wearables, including XR glasses and headsets, body-worn sensors, wrist wearables, and even exoskeletons, are not one size fits all; they’re one size fits most men and it shows: Headsets are often too heavy for female users, frames too large, lenses too far apart, accessory and motion control devices ill-fitting, etc. As a result, women are literally unable to have some of the same (quality) XR experiences as men. Of course, such wearability issues with XR devices are not universal for women but it is a common pain point impacting women’s use of the technology.

Physiological differences between the sexes have major implications for wearable technology, or so one would thinkWomen on average are smaller than men and while sizing is an issue with wearable tech by definition, the problem is magnified in the case of wearable XR devices that require precise calibration to deliver the experience. If the fit isn’t just right in VR, the simulation can be blurred, distorted and/or nauseating for the user, yet today’s VR headsets are made to fit the average male’s head. This is one reason women experience VR sickness more often than men. The fact that men and women see differently is another: Men have better depth perception and more M cells for tracking the movement of objects in their retinas—a plus in VR. Women can see more of the red end of the color spectrum, but they also blink twice as often as men and their retinas are rich in P cells, great for identifying objects and analyzing color but not for preventing motion sickness. In other words, we’re dealing with advanced optic technologies, yet the two major groups of potential XR users don’t even perceive distance and space in the same way.

In addition to stature and vision, other differences between men and women go right to the bone. For example:

  • Men’s upper body strength is estimated to be 30% greater than women’s.
  • Women have wider hips, broader facial bones, a smaller chin, longer neck, and shorter legs than men.
  • Broader hips mean a wider angle at the knee joint, so females’ knee joints are under more stress than males’.
  • Women’s hands are, on average, 17 mm shorter than men’s. A woman’s index finger is typically longer than her ring finger, while the opposite is true for men.
  • Women hear better but have a stronger emotional response to the anticipation of pain. (Implications for high-stakes, hazardous job training in VR)
  • Men and women use different areas of the brain for navigation: Women navigate using landmarks while men use cardinals and distance.

Can you imagine how such differences might work against women in XR or how exoskeletons and other wearables could be more beneficial to male workers simply because the fit is better? If a female worker has to stop a VR training simulation due to motion sickness, will she be able to get the training she needs? If a pair of smart glasses constantly slide down a female worker’s face, will she be less efficient than her male coworker who’s comfortably working heads-up and hands-free?

What about menstruation and pregnancy, two conditions unique to women? Research indicates that the hormonal and physical changes involved affect a woman’s balance, dexterity and coordination, making her more vulnerable to injury on the job and more prone to VR sickness. The sad reality is many women are pressured to work throughout their pregnancies and return to work soon after childbirth; yet I can’t recall a wearable tech article or actual enterprise product that singles out pregnant women, let alone female enterprise end users. (By the way, it took until iOS 9 for the Apple Watch to finally track menstruation.)

Where an employer may see reason for assigning fewer physical tasks or limiting work hours (and thus pay) for a female employee, I sense an opportunity for working women to leverage wearable technologies to reduce the risk of injury when at their most vulnerable, to alleviate physical and cognitive stress, and to work longer and safer during the course of pregnancy. The problem is I don’t think designers have potentially pregnant users in mind when creating wearable devices. We as a community talk a lot about taking a user-centric approach to hardware and its applications for enterprise, but are all workers truly reflected in the form factors and user experience of enterprise wearables today? If not, how can we expect wearables to ever go mainstream in enterprise?

Betting on a future with more female industrial workers:

Standard worker health and safety gear in general has been designed for male users, without regard for the unchangeable physical limitations of women (or anyone else for that matter). The fact that tools and work stations aren’t really designed for the female frame may be one reason women suffer a disproportionate number of ergonomic-related injuries in the workplace. As a single upper extremity claim can cost an employer upwards of $20,000, you would think more attention were paid to whether standard work processes, essential equipment, and the working environment allow women to work with the same efficiency, productivity, and safety as their male coworkers. And with companies strapped to find and train new workers, you would think employers are doing all they can to source, retain and enable people to work for them.

Women currently make up a smaller portion of the workforce in sectors set to be dramatically transformed by wearable and immersive technologies, but that doesn’t justify the continued use of the male as a default. There are many women today performing hands-on, deskless work on the assembly line, in the warehouse, etc., with more to come in the future, and they need hands-free, well-fitting, performance-enhancing tools they can wield comfortably and efficiently.

Future looking: What does XR’s potential to make job training faster and easier mean for women just entering the workforce or changing careers? If XR makes it theoretically possible to learn any skill or trade, could it solve both gender inequality in the workplace and the skilled labor shortage, expanding the talent pool in many male-dominant sectors, by lowering the barrier of entry for women in industry? One thing I know: Wearables and XR will never reach their full potential if the user experience is inferior for women than men.


Technology “for men:”

“The form factor design of so many wearable XR devices, as with so many everyday objects, has gender bias and ableism baked into design. This is the new equivalent of work gear that only comes in men’s size large. Head gear, glasses, watches, controllers – so much of this stuff is conceptualized and designed to standards that don’t meet the basic functional, ergonomic or aesthetic needs for a multiplicity of users.” – Margaret Wallace, Founder, KijiCo & Playmatics 

“[VR] controllers are too big for the hands of many of the women I demo to. Headset straps are too small to fit around large textured or styled hair, or things like turbans. Don’t get me started on [external] battery packs that expect you to have belts or pockets.” – Becca Little, software developer, State Farm

“…it took me a year to get the HoloLens to fit right for my head. The Magic Leap One has a smaller size for smaller heads and faces, so that helped tremendously, but none of the smart glasses fit my face right yet.” – Evo Heyning, CEO & Founder, Light Lodges

“For me, it’s not about looks but size. I am a petite female, so nearly all gear is heavy and adjustment elements don’t adjust small enough, from the face of a watch on your wrist to the focal adjustment of lenses inside a headset, to the Velcro and clips of a haptic vest. I know weight can’t be avoided much yet, but I’m afraid that targets are not low enough to be ergonomically friendly for those of us with smaller frames.”Jamie Woodard, Senior Solutions Engineer, Instructure

In 2010, Danish researchers found that the basic premises underlying many advanced electronic products like the mobile phone and even GPS were dominated by male thinking. Not much has changed: The women who were kind enough to share their experiences with me on Facebook and LinkedIn pointed out numerous “sexist flaws” in wearable devices. Their complaints resonated with my own: Hands too small to reach the grips on a VR controller; glossy or elastic headset straps that don’t work for certain hair types; HMDs that sit heavy on the nose bridge or cheekbones; losing the full immersive experience when looking down (being able to see beyond the visor, like breaking the fourth wall); lenses that prove their makers are unaware of the existence of mascara; face makeup smudging and dirtying HUD screens in general; un-adjustable smart bands that slip off the wrist; a lack of female avatars; having to take out braids, ponytails and topknots to put on a headset, and more. Again, this isn’t every woman’s reality with wearables; neither are men immune to discomfort while using wearables. Not all wearable devices exhibit gender bias and those that aren’t very gender neutral weren’t designed intentionally so.

I was unable to find any in-depth scientific research or ergonomic studies specific to XR and wearables for this article, probably because the tech is still emerging. Even so, it’s recognized that technology has long been designed by and for men; and there are enough women having ergonomic issues trying to use wearables and XR to, at the very least, start a conversation. As a new training medium, XR is going to be crucial for filling millions of vacant positions in the workforce. A new wave of technology is an opportunity to examine old workplace tools and processes favoring a certain type of worker and empower all types and shapes of workers. Take manufacturing, where women are one of the largest pools of untapped talent according to Deloitte. Emerging tech like automation and robotics should be used to reduce barriers of entry for women in manufacturing, as should new remote work platforms allow women to work more flexible hours from anywhere in the world. XR should serve as a means of professional training and visual guidance, preparing women for new careers in unfamiliar industries; and exoskeletons should enable them to perform on a more even playing field as their male colleagues, taking on moving, lifting and technical roles traditionally seen as “men’s work.”


All-inclusive wearables:

Women are the least likely buyers of consumer VR, which doesn’t bode well for the consumer market or for companies hoping cool new tech will attract both male and female millennials to fill out their workforces. The answer, however, isn’t to develop an attractive headset that, while less capable than the original, is small enough to fit around a woman’s head; nor is it to offer something like VR training or exoskeletons as an option for workers knowing the tech’s design puts some women at a disadvantage. As women are nearly half the labor force, organizations and enterprise wearable and immersive solution providers must consider hardware and user experience issues unique to female workers.

Field services, manufacturing, utilities, and other sectors struggling to recruit new members to the workforce should make tackling gender inequality in the workplace a priority, from the very tools used on the job to the policies that support employee wellbeing. In addition to paying attention to the needs and experiences of the existing female workforce, enterprises should consider women who haven’t yet entered the workforce, young women beginning to use AR/VR in their education, women forced to change careers due to the skills upheaval expected across business and industry, and women who might never think to take on traditionally male jobs like material handlers, machine operators, etc.

Going forward, hardware and software designers should adopt a more mindful approach to developing solutions for the modern and future workforce, considering the female experience at every stage of the design process, asking for and listening to women’s feedback, and even setting up all-female usability tests. What are the unique requirements of female workers? For example, women tend to wear makeup; how does that affect sharing devices among workers? XR brings sight, sound and touch to the workplace in a new way; do smaller hands, shorter fingers, long nails, different hairstyles, varying levels of visual acuity, even a higher voice have any effect on the mode of interacting with the device? It could be as simple as making a headset more adjustable and developing VR simulations where women can see themselves in the avatars; or it may be more complex, requiring customization of solutions for different user groups.


Conclusion:

When it comes to work, AR and VR are essentially career development tools for the next generation of workers, which is why it’s imperative that women feel comfortable using the technology. Hand-free is the future: From delivering just-in-time information and immersive training to collecting biometric and environmental data for increased situational awareness and augmenting workers’ strength; there are applications for wearable technologies that we haven’t even begun to consider. While the current focus is on the business problems of today, there’s opportunity in wearable and immersive tech to make industry not only inclusive of women but also individuals previously ineligible for some or all kinds of work like the physically and vision-disabled. But first, the hardware needs to be built so everyone can use it and the user experience designed to be equally accessible to everyone.

 

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.

photo credit: Philicious Photos 2018-05-12 05 via photopin (license)

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.

Let Your Customers and Workers Choose the Right XR Use Case for You

Here’s a common misconception: The more robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) advance, the more expendable human beings become in the workplace.

Although Forrester Research predicts automation will displace 24.7 million jobs by 2027, it’s irrational to fear that robots will ultimately replace all human workers. For as robotics and AI improve, so do technologies for empowering human workers. I’m talking about wearable technologies like augmented and virtual reality headsets as well as wearable robotics (exoskeletons) that enable humans to work longer, quickly train for new jobs, and perform in sync with automation. You could even argue that as automation progresses, human workers will become more indispensable to enterprises—while robots may assume the dangerous and repetitive aspects of work, unmanned technology won’t be able to address every productivity issue or match distinctly human capabilities like human dexterity and imagination.

When it comes to embracing disruptive technology, successful organizations take a “user is king” approach, finding out pain points in the business directly from the source, i.e. workers or customers who are expected to use or benefit from the technology. Whether it’s getting a group together for a brainstorming session, including members of the workforce in the proof of concept stage, or simply encouraging a company culture where employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas with leadership; there is no one better than the user herself to determine where and how to digitally transform.


“Treat employees like they make a difference, and they will.” – SAS CEO Jim Goodnight


Two companies have gone beyond merely asking for user input: KLM Royal Dutch Airlines established a physical hub to foster workers’ original ideas for using emerging technologies; while Lowe’s went directly to the customer, applying “young” immersive tech to age-old home improvement shopping challenges. Essentially, KLM and Lowe’s are letting their employees and customers come up with the use cases in which they’re investing.

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

In 2016 at its Amsterdam Airport Schiphol East base, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines opened its Digital Studio, a creative space where workers from all areas of the airline’s business are encouraged to come and innovate. Here, employees can put forward ideas on how to use digital technologies like AR and blockchain in their work, and see their ideas fast-tracked into development and then, hopefully, into practice.

The Digital Studio, which currently has room for 200 workers, is based upon Dave West’s Scrum Studio concept of an environment where high-performing teams, physically separated from the main business, can fast-track projects. It’s very hard to change large legacy companies like KLM from within: The larger the organization, the higher the chances of disruptive technologies ending up in pilot purgatory and innovation suffocating in red tape between divisions and levels of management.

Though most of the current projects at KLM’s Digital Studio are still in the experimental stage, a handful have turned into practice. The studio has embraced KLM employees of all different backgrounds and roles, who may not have otherwise had the opportunity to take their transformative ideas further. Take Chris Koomen, who was stationed in KLM’s engineering and maintenance division: Chris had an idea for using VR, so he joined the Digital Studio and has been a part of integrating VR for training aircraft crew. Another idea pitched by a KLM mechanic involves using AR in aircraft and engine maintenance.

Every four weeks, the Digital Studio hosts a demo of what it’s working on to interested observers. The lesson here is don’t hide emerging tech in a lab unless you’re going to let the user in. Show employees what’s out there, give them resources, and let those who perform the job every day tell you how to transform the business.


“The customer experience is the next competitive battleground.” – Jerry Gregoire, former VP & CIO of Dell


Lowe’s

Despite the impression one might get from HGTV, building things is not easy for the non-professional. Planning a home improvement project, shopping for building materials, executing the project…what’s most difficult for the average consumer, even a hardcore DIY-er, is visualizing the final product. But it seems a solution has finally appeared in the form of XR (AR, VR, MR), and all the major home improvement brands recognize the potential. There are now apps for virtually measuring your surroundings and picturing all kinds of design options and home products in your real space. And it’s not just the Lowe’s and Home Depots of the world—architects and engineers have seized upon VR to help clients visualize new structures, real estate agents are giving virtual home tours, and even Gulfstream Aerospace employs XR so its clients know exactly what their custom jets will look like when delivered.

Lowe’s has been conspicuously innovative in making the benefits of XR available to its customers. For the last four years, powerful new immersive technology design and shopping tools have been brewing in Lowe’s Innovation Labs. Josh Shabtai, Director of the Labs Productions and Operations, says he looks at those problems that keep resurfacing. Since the introduction of Holoroom How-To in 2014, Lowe’s Innovation Labs has rolled out an impressive suite of mobile apps / pilot projects to gauge customers’ comfort level with XR, including Lowe’s Vision, In-Store Navigation, and View in Your Space.

Lowe’s is trying to solve the classic pain points of home improvement shopping by giving customers the ability to see with the eyes of a contractor or interior designer, determine whether products fit in their space, virtually tile a bathroom, operate a power tool, and more. By focusing on customer problems, Lowe’s has made some of the strongest cases for consumer AR and VR to date. The retailer’s steady flow of practical immersive experiences even landed it at the top of a list of most innovative companies in AR/VR by Fast Company!


With each employee-generated idea, KLM not only gains a potentially transformative technology solution but also primes its workers for the change to digital—there’s no need to convince employees to use solutions they helped conceive of. And with each application, Lowe’s refines the XR tools that future consumers will use to visualize spaces and learn new skills; ideally positioning itself to scale when the time comes, build customer loyalty and future-proof its business from online competition.

 

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. Tickets now available at www.aweeu.com.

 

Image source: Lowe’s via Road to VR

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

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

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

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

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


Millennials’ attitudes about work

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

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


Digital natives and the declining life span of learned skills

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

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


Why XR is perfect for attracting millennials, intergenerational transfer of skills and future skill development

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

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

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

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


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

 

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


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

photo credit: amsfrank via photopin (license)

The Big Three: Data, Content and Security of Enterprise Wearables

At EWTS 2016, data, content and security were identified as the top problem or challenge areas still facing the enterprise wearable tech industry. Here are some thoughts on “the big three” revealed at the conference:    

On data and infrastructure:

Data is problematic for enterprise wearables in two regards. The first (brought up by James Ilari, Team Lead, Emerging Technologies & Strategy, Information Services, PowerStream Inc.) has to do with back-end data, which in most organizations is not currently consumable from a mobile standpoint. Chris Croteau (General Manager, Head-Worn Devices, New Devices Group at Recon, an Intel company) elaborated on this point: “The number one [problem right] now with near-eye displays and AR is the whole intent of the device is to tie you to a back-end knowledge base, some information store.”

Many companies have this kind of information stored in PDF documents or possess “swarms” of data, neither of which work well in a heads-up display. The challenge, then, is to recreate or “re-architect” the organization’s information stores; and the more immersive the device, the greater the challenge. The middleware, says Chris, is there but a “quantum leap in information management” is required.

The second data challenge comes from new data that is being collected, whether by wearable devices or by sensors on machines:

Pete Godino, Global Operations Innovation Business Manager, Hershey Company: “We went live with our first manufacturing line to use machine learning and IoT at full scale. The amount of data we can collect and actually use through AI is remarkable, but it’s been a rough road. We’re still learning from the data, working through our infrastructure and security.

The amount of data that can be generated by advanced sensors today is certainly remarkable. This data is one source of content that can be consumed via wearables (see below.) In the medical community, new data poses both the greatest opportunity and the biggest hurdle to advance medicine and improve patients’ lives. Biometric wearables are creating multiple data streams, and we’re not even sure how accurate the information is or how to yield actionable insights from it. The challenge is to integrate those streams and “apply big data” to gain a more complete or total view of a single patient.

Dr. Peter Chai, Medical Toxicology Fellow, Mass: “[We] need to figure out a way of integrating all these streams so you don’t have six different apps for all your different wearables, [just] looking at these things in isolation. How do we take the best information from each piece?”

Peter recounted giving health-tracking wristbands to a group of patients, which created about 6 billion data points per patient in one week. His interest is in using the information from patients’ wearables to predict disease, figuring out how to “hone in” on key pieces of data as well as how to identify larger patterns.

Dr. Paul Szotek (Assistant Clinical Professor of Surgery, Acute Care & Trauma Surgery, IU Health) ultimately envisions a “surgical dashboard” that presents the right data at the right time in a digital overlay, “like a Google map of the patient’s body” right in the O.R.

Dr. Selene Parekh (Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Duke University) also spoke of a dashboard: “The problem is patients are collecting all their consumer data, and it’s not being funneled into a healthcare portal for us to [access.] Eventually, all this information will have to [go into] one dashboard…Eventually we are all going to have to see one platform.”

What to do with the data collected by wearables is a challenge for other industries, as well. It’s important to work with IT in defining how your organization is going to “capture, hold and report the data” – Kristi Montgomery, Vice President, Innovation, R&D, Kenco Innovation Labs

On content:

As mentioned, many organizations still use PDF documents, the kind of information stores which have to be re-created to be viewed through smart glasses or other devices. Sensor data also serves as content that can be shared with workers through wearable technology. But sensors generate a lot of data, and it’s not all “good data,” as in medicine or the Oil & Gas industry. There aren’t too many industries today that are ready for Augmented Reality from a content perspective, save for perhaps the AEC industry.

What content do your employees need to access on a day-to-day basis to get different tasks done? From work instructions to equipment manuals, safety protocols, and sensor data—all this information has to be made “consumable” from a wearable device. In other cases, the appropriate content – animations, step-by-step procedural information, 3D visualizations of objects, etc. – will have to be created “from scratch.”

On security:

As with data, there are two challenging components to enterprise wearables on the security front: There’s the security of the data collected and conveyed through wearable technology (patient and employee data as well as sensitive company information), and there’s the security of the devices themselves, which present yet another cyber entry point into the organization.

Security can be a major hold-up to getting the most out of what wearables have to offer to enterprise. How do we implement without compromising security? The best practice is to tread lightly and slowly, to start small-scale in a controlled setting with data or a process that’s not the most critical and building on that. Use the pilot to identify security gaps and weaknesses, and to build a “culture of security” around wearable technology in your organization.

There is such a thing as being overly cautious, however, which Dr. Parekh warned against:

“We’re so worried about privacy it stifles our ability. We have competing interests: We want ease of access – want to use biometrics and have full access to healthcare data – and yet we want to have security. At some point, some kind of standard has to be adopted across the industry to allow people like me to implement [this technology] into my work.”

Though Dr. Parekh was speaking as a healthcare provider, overcautiousness can stifle industries other than medicine. Perhaps the most practical piece of advice given at EWTS ’16 came from Blake Burnette, Director of Equipment Research and Development at Baker Hughes: “If your device doesn’t do anything it wasn’t designed to do, then you have security.”

 

*All quotes are transcribed from the sessions and presentations given at EWTS, June 16-17, 2016 in Atlanta, GA, and therefore may not be exact.

 

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. 

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)

Major Themes in Enterprise Wearables Today: Challenges Ahead – Devices Still Lacking

Wearables in the workplace are inevitable–this much I think we can agree upon, if only because the devices are hands-free (making them essential for deskless workers.) In addition, we can agree that a user-centric approach to both the hardware itself and its applications for enterprise is mandatory; and that there are some very viable and effective uses for the technology in business and industry today (though the ROI may be somewhat subjective.) And yet, the road to mainstream enterprise wearables is not without (more than) a few remaining bumps. So what are the challenges ahead?

In this post, we’ll cover an obvious one: Many of the devices are still lacking. Pilots fail because the hardware is not completely reliable, sufficiently ruggedized, ergonomic or intrinsically safe; because the devices do not meet industry regulations, require strong connectivity and thus are not field-proof, etc. Take it from Mubarik Choudry of Shell:

“It’s not going to be easy to deploy these solutions out in the [oil] field. We’ve received positive feedback in testing with users but there are definite constraints [including] wearability, reliability…the frustrating part is that the hardware market isn’t moving as fast as we would like for our environment.”

In addition to the devices’ shortcomings, there are limitations imposed by the working environment itself. This is very true in the Oil and Gas industry, which – as Mubarik and also Vincent Higgins of Optech4D pointed out at EWTS 2016 – typically involves remote operations in harsh, explosion-prone environments, where putting the infrastructure in place to accommodate wearables is difficult. Such challenges must be overcome to take full advantage of wearables especially in field operations, where the technology stands to provide the greatest value.

From its long-standing position in the space, Zebra Technologies has managed to parse out many of the device issues holding up widespread enterprise HUD adoption. According to Tom Bianculli, these include a narrow field of view, high power consumption and heat generation; ergonomics factors like size and weight (or bulkiness); and human variables like head size, nose and ear shape, interpupillary distance and peripheral vision. Then, there are the realities of making truly enterpise-grade wearables, which include the complexities of cost and mass production, reliability (energy efficiency, connectivity, ruggedization), and even legal considerations like impact on workplace liability.

Nevertheless, enterprises are still managing to put the wearables of today to good use, as evidenced by the many use cases described and documented on this blog alone and the evolving roster of case studies presented at each year’s EWTS. To learn more about the ergonomic challenges of wearable tech, read our article “Enterprise Wearables: Human Design and Ergonomic Considerations.”

 

*All quotes are transcribed from the sessions and presentations given at EWTS, June 16-17, 2016 in Atlanta, GA, and therefore may not be exact.

 

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. 

AWE 2016: Three Takeaways from the POV of an Enterprise End User

Last week, I attended the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, CA. I walked through the large exhibit space, trying new devices and technologies and catching up with many EWTS sponsors and partners; and also sat in on sessions, always asking myself “What could an enterprise learn from this experience?” Here are some thoughts and lessons I came away with: Continue reading “AWE 2016: Three Takeaways from the POV of an Enterprise End User”

Enterprise Wearables: Human Design and Ergonomic Considerations

The latest high-profile wearable devices – including the Microsoft HoloLens and the DAQRI Smart Helmet; new smart glasses like the Vuzix M300, Epson Moverio BT-300, and the Meta 2; the arrival of VR in the form of back-to-back Oculus Rift and HTC Vive releases; and even mentions of digital tattoos and smart contact lenses – seem to signal a next phase in the advancement of wearable technology, especially the next generation of heads-up or head-mounted displays for enterprise use. Continue reading “Enterprise Wearables: Human Design and Ergonomic Considerations”