The Definitive BrainXchange Guide to Adopting Wearables, AR and VR in Enterprise


In 2015, the newly-formed BrainXchange put together the first-ever event devoted to the business and industrial use of wearable technologies. Back then, the team was taking a risk on a category of technology that seemed promising only if you read between the lines of the numerous articles talking about “Glassholes” and fitness trackers. There have now been five Enterprise Wearable Technology Summits, with a sixth scheduled for September 2019.

Over the last four years, BrainXchange and the EWTS community have grown together and witnessed the birth of a fourth industrial revolution that promises to make humans more agile, connected, and mobile than ever before. During that time, we spoke with thousands of enterprise innovators and decision makers about their wearable tech and extended reality efforts; and saw numerous use cases and next-generation platforms influenced by the early adopters who got on the EWTS stage to share their stories. What follows is knowledge resulting from BrainXchange’s experience in the space and specifically with enterprise end users themselves.

Steps and Best Practices for Successful Adoption


So, you’ve discovered smart glasses and see their potential; or, you’ve been directed to look into wearable technologies to stay competitive—where do you start?


The first step is also the most important and difficult one: Choosing a use case. Early adopters agree that the best practice is to engage with end users. Go into the field or onto the factory floor and interview frontline workers, the ones who will actually wear the technology. Ask employees outright about their pain points using the guiding questions below; and even consider setting up a kind of innovation hub where employees can try out different technologies on their own and imagine what they might do with them. Let users tell you where they find value for the technology.

Guiding Questions (ask of end users):

  • What tools and methods do you use to access task-based information, get help from others, record or verify your work, and interact with customers? Do you have any complaints about the tools you currently use on the job or the workflow for a particular task?
  • Do you find yourself at times fumbling with devices and manuals when you need both hands to work?
  • Have you come up with any makeshift solutions or hacks to speed up your own work, make your job easier, or make yourself more comfortable on the job?
  • When you encounter a problem, how do you report it? Do you have to leave your work area to tell someone? Do you find yourself communicating the issue multiple times? Do you typically wait around for someone to look at or fix the issue for you?
  • Are there times vital information is not at the ready or delivered to you in an inconvenient manner? Are there times you wish the directions for a task were right in front of you?
  • Do you have to remember a lot of information for certain tasks? How do you commit that information to memory?
  • What kind of training did you undergo for your job? How was the training carried out? Do you think it was adequate? Can you still recall your training or do you feel you learned mostly on the job through trial and error?
  • Are there times you feel your safety or performance is at risk due to cognitive stress, physical strain, or other factors in the work environment? Would on-demand information and support, glanceable safety alerts, or real-time biometric and environmental data help you feel more situationally aware?

More Guiding Questions (ask of the business):

  • Where in the business do workers still rely on paper instructions, lists, manuals, or schematics? Could you digitize this information and deliver it to users via a wearable?
  • For which tasks are hand-held devices used and does it interfere with hands-on work?
  • Which tasks require point-of-work instructions? Where is the needed information located, in what format, and how do workers access it? Is information retrieval ergonomically in line with the task? Could the information be made more readily available to the worker?
  • Do workers have to fill out forms or perform manual data entry for any tasks?
  • Which tasks require documentation or record keeping for compliance, proof of service, or quality assurance? How is it done and how much of the worker’s time does it consume? Is reporting standardized or is there room for misinterpretation? Are workers limited in any way in recording information?
  • Do employees need to put down what they’re doing or walk away from their work to record data, file a report, or get assistance? When do workers wait on SMEs to solve a problem?
  • What factors delay repair of equipment and vehicles?
  • Which jobs involve a high level of customization or variability, with different instructions for every variation? Does this slow workers down or lead to errors?
  • For which tasks do workers carry heavy loads, work in non-ergonomic positions, or perform repetitive tasks?
  • Which tasks could be performed remotely to save time and money? (Not just remote guidance but also remote inspections, design reviews, customer service, etc.)
  • Other tasks to consider:
    • Tasks with many simple steps
    • Tasks for which the company doesn’t provide much training
    • Tasks for which employees need to read instructions while working
    • Tasks where small errors can have big consequences
    • Tasks with a shortage of qualified workers

Even more:

  • Are you using the best and fastest training methods for a shrinking, multigenerational workforce? Are trainees engaged, and do they remember their training in the real work setting?
  • Do workers need to train for dangerous situations or anomalies that are hard or undesirable to simulate in real life?
  • How do you preserve the knowledge of veteran workers near retirement? What is the onboarding process for new hires? Is employee retention a problem?
  • Are you a global company? How do employees across the company work together or share complex information (telepresence, face-to-face meetings, etc.)?
  • Where are your customers and partners based and how do they interact with the business?
  • Do any aspects of the business suffer from poor planning and communication among stakeholders?
  • Is there a backlog in any area of the business?

The two most common and proven points of entry for enterprise wearables are vision picking and remote support with smart glasses. There are plenty of real-life pilots and rollouts you can use as examples. You can also look at prior years’ safety, uptime, quality, etc. data (if you have that information available) to pinpoint sources of error, injury, fatigue, paid travel, rework, machine/worker downtime, profit loss, and customer dissatisfaction.

Be realistic! You may only have one chance to prove your case, so make sure it’s based upon a real business problem and that those closest to the problem have input. The simplest use cases like ditching a hand-held scanner for a wearable one can have tremendous impact.


After you’ve identified a high-value use case with a low barrier of entry (not overly complex), familiarize yourself with the market. Talk to vendors; try out as many different devices as you can. You might also consult with an analyst or team up with a university or industry association. There are many product offerings out there and while each one has a role to play in someone’s business, it might not be right for your particular use case.

Some things to remember:

  • The use case determines your choice of hardware (not the other way around)
  • The device has to fit the use case, satisfy the end user’s needs, and meet industry requirements
  • Wearables aren’t right or necessary for every worker, task or area of the business

To narrow down the options, ask what device abilities or features are needed for the use case. For example, a good camera and connectivity are necessary for remote support; a lightweight device for long shifts. Get feedback from users. To demystify the technology, consider hosting events for employees to test devices. You might start out with a more familiar form factor or even a consumer wearable if you need immediate buy-in (ex. starting with mobile AR on smartphones and tablets before introducing smart glasses). You can also test multiple devices for comparison; just factor this into your pilot plan.

There is an ecosystem of mature partners and support in place; so in addition to a software partner, you may require the assistance of a systems integrator like Accenture or Deloitte or a security solution provider like airwatch or Augmate. As the wearable technology market is constantly changing, there is also a chance that the hardware you choose today will be obsolete two years from now. Ask if the hardware is scalable and make sure multiple platforms are supported on the software side.

BONUS: Which device for which application?

  • Hands-free (heads-up) information
    • From an ERP system (requires system integration) – Smart glasses
    • Safety alerts and task prompts – (monocular) Smart glasses, smartwatch
    • Documentation and recording – Smart glasses, some smartwatches, body cameras
    • Verification (typically requires object/visual recognition capability) – Smart glasses
  • Remote viewing
    • Remote support (requires front-facing camera and connectivity) – Smart glasses
    • Remote collaboration (more interactive) – Augmented Reality glasses, Mixed Reality headset, Virtual Reality headset (for virtual meeting spaces)
  • Design and asset visualization – XR (AR, VR, MR) headset (requires 3D content)
    • Visualization of machine or other complex data
    • Building/layout planning
    • Design and process reviews
    • Product development
  • Training – XR glasses/headsets
    • AR glasses for on-the-job learning through step-by-step instructions, digital content overlay, or remote teacher
    • MR headset for training on real equipment
    • VR headset for more immersive training simulations
  • Sales
    • Bringing the sales pitch to the customer – MR/VR headset
    • Visualizing product or project options – XR headset
    • Enabling remote shopping – Smart glasses (worn by sales associate)
    • Marketing (virtual or remote tours, in-store experiences) – XR headset
  • Service
    • B2B customer can instantly and remotely connect to an SME at HQ – Smart glasses (worn by customer)
    • Creating a more personalized customer experience by delivering information to the employee at the point of sale – Smart glasses, smartwatch
    • Streaming or recording first-person video on the job for customer’s remote observation – Smart glasses
  • Safety
    • Tracking employee biometrics and environmental factors – Body-worn sensors (embedded in a variety of form factors)
    • Physical behavior modification (monitors user’s form and provides alerts, haptic or otherwise) – Body-worn (ergonomic) sensors
    • Support for physically-demanding tasks – Partial or full exoskeleton 

Develop Internally or Partner?

Today, the enterprise wearable technology ecosystem has matured to the point where most hardware companies have multiple software partners and many software solutions work on a variety of devices (including smartphones and tablets). If you have a particular device in mind, check out the companies that vendor has partnered with. You can also benchmark with peers and use resources like the annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit and the EnterpriseWear Blog to educate yourself about the space before committing to a solution. It is important to find a software partner who understands your needs and will work with you to overcome challenges at every step.

If you are thinking about developing internally, do not take content for granted. Become familiar with common software engines and don’t underestimate the development or integration effort that will be required. If not working with an external partner, make sure it’s a turnkey solution with OTA updates that doesn’t require building an application from scratch, supports a broad range of hardware and use cases, and has self-service capabilities allowing you to add functionality and update content without relying on the solution provider.

Locate or Create Content

Content creation is a common bottleneck especially for XR (AR, VR, MR) applications in the enterprise. Most non-AEC organizations do not have existing computer-generated content that easily translates into wearable AR/VR applications. Lack of content can rack up costs and delay adoption, even force you back to step one, so before proceeding to the pilot phase determine your content needs.

The ideal situation is to repurpose existing digital content: Take inventory of the company’s existing digital information stores. What ERP information or external data sources could the wearable solution tap into? What 3D digital assets could you obtain from OEMs or engineers in other areas of the business? What information do workers currently rely upon to perform the task in question; do you have the capacity to digitize this information in-house? If not, who do you need to hire or partner with?

Most enterprises begin with basic textual overlays or static visualizations of 3D models in a heads-up display. More dynamic, contextual AR experiences and highly immersive VR experiences have to be built from scratch, requiring specialized expertise; while experiences anchored to specific objects or places (ex. pieces of equipment, locations in a warehouse) require special markers or more advanced object recognition technology.

The good news is that vendors are trying to make content creation easier for non-programmers. Companies are taking advantage of new drag-and-drop authoring platforms, using 3D scanning, and capturing content with 360-degree video. If you hire a developer, look for someone with a strong foundation in programming (not necessarily someone with XR experience). When selecting a partner, keep systems integration and content maintenance in mind. 


You’ve engaged with end users, chosen a use case, narrowed down a wearable device, and partnered with a software provider. To go any further, you will need the support of IT, EHS, and/or other department(s) in the organization to determine operational factors and work around barriers. Turn these business units into stakeholders with a sense of ownership in the project. If you require content owned by an OEM or someone else in the business, tell them why you need the content. A lot of pushback is rooted in fear of new technologies making our jobs obsolete. Make it personal, explaining the potential benefits of the use case to the business, to the team, and to the individual worker.

Getting employee buy-in (push vs. pull):

  • Give employees the chance to be hands-on with the technology. Be mindful that this may be many workers’ first contact with wearables/XR.
  • Explain the benefits to them: Help workers understand what the technology will do for them, how it will make their jobs easier. You may need to engage differently with the older workforce than you do with younger employees.
  • Manage perceptions: Provide a forum to hear and address employee concerns and misconceptions. Find your champions in respected workers who can help socialize the technology internally. Make champions of opponents by taking the time to find out what they really fear.
  • Consider distributing surveys for feedback, bringing in outside experts to assuage fears, making pilot participation voluntary, and anonymizing any user data collected by the technology.
  • If your use case involves collecting data on employees (or is perceived to do so), clearly explain how the information will be used, stored, protected, and managed. Also explain how the data will not be used (ex. for punitive purposes), where and for how long it will be stored, and the options for permanently deleting the data.

When you have IT and other business units on board along with pull from employees, making your case to management is easier. Of course, pilots don’t just happen; they require financing which may be out of your control. By now, securing a preliminary budget to evaluate wearable technologies (obtaining devices, attending events) shouldn’t be difficult. There are, again, plenty of use cases out there you can share with superiors to bolster your case. Wearables are no longer fringe technology; even AR/VR has come more into the mainstream, and your competitors may already be using the tech.

Making the business case is really presenting a hypothesis. Here are some tips:

  • Present the use case and how the wearable will improve the way the job is currently done. Connect the wearable solution to real business outcomes like productivity, time savings, sales conversions, etc.
  • Invite C-level representatives to try out the technology themselves, and to sit in on meetings with vendors and end users.
  • Explain how the technology could (hypothetically) pay for itself while also communicating that trials are critical to working out problems and vulnerabilities and may involve lesson-teaching failures.
  • Assuage any security and viability concerns: You’re working closely with IT and your software partner has a good track record and flexible solution. There are ways to work around potential issues. (Ex. a very common workaround is to deploy a wearables-only wireless network in order to get going without exposing the main network. If you have sensitive, proprietary data, avoid the cloud and keep the solution on-site.)
  • If you need a slam-dunk use case, consider choosing one in which the solution is self-contained. Take advantage of the basic features of smart glasses (hands-free, front-facing camera) to make small but significant improvements; go with simple software that doesn’t require much maintenance; etc. 



Determine all the operational factors that need to be accounted for in a real deployment, including:

  • Security
  • Connectivity
  • Safety
  • Usability
  • Device Management
  • Training
  • Content Creation
  • System Integration

Given these factors, what needs to be addressed, worked around, created or changed before the pilot begins? If you brought in the right people within the business in the POC phase, these factors should not pose roadblocks. You should also benchmark with others in the industry and study pilot programs for similar use cases at other organizations.


  • Pilot size: How many workers will participate? How will they be selected and grouped? How many devices will be tested? How will these be acquired, paid for, and managed?
  • Pilot location: Where will the pilot take place? In just one facility or at multiple sites? Are there any aspects of the pilot environment or site that might interfere with use? Have you accounted for industry safety requirements and other regulations? Review with data privacy, security and compliance teams.
  • Pilot duration: How long will the pilot be active? (Three to six months is ideal for the actual pilot. Keep in mind that setting up the pilot and working through IT security and other issues can take many months.)
  • Pilot results: Prepare to measure results and gather feedback. What KPIs will be tracked? How will results be measured? Work with stakeholders to define pilot objectives and agree on a method of measuring success. Consider adding additional sensing technology (ex. to track heart rate, stress, satisfaction) to more accurately assess user response and engagement.

Pilot Best Practices:

Begin with a small, manageable deployment of one or two groups of volunteers—ideally workers representing a range of age groups with varying levels of experience in the industry. Prepare these pilot participants by training them on the solution beforehand and provide lineside support, whether from your software partner or a fellow worker who gets the technology. Remember that no plan survives first execution intact; expect the pilot to change course when something doesn’t work the way you planned and be ready to adapt and learn something from it. Test the technology in an iterative fashion, making observations and capturing lessons to improve over time, and get continuous feedback. Look out for weak points and vulnerabilities in the use case, hardware issues, software glitches, and other changes that will need to be worked out before the rollout phase.


Extracting numbers and percentages from these pilots is difficult, especially when there are a lot of factors to the KPI. Take efficiency: Many variables impact workplace efficiency, so how do you determine the percentage effect of introducing a wearable? How do you measure productivity or retention of knowledge over the short lifespan of a pilot program? In this early stage, there are few long-term studies of wearables in the workplace to go on. It will take further adoption and more time for that research to develop.

ROI is not the only relevant factor in determining the success of a pilot or justifying further use of wearables. Success shows up in more ways than a dollar return, such as improved employee or customer satisfaction. You should be looking for both quantifiable and qualifiable ROI. Workers’ comfort and quality of life are important KPIs that you can track in many cases more easily than increased uptime or reduced risk of injury due to wearable technology. Consider less calculable, even emotional indicators; and interview pilot participants to uncover non-numerical improvements like reduced strain and better focus. Do not disregard the impact on non-users who could experience indirect benefits down the line, as well.

You can have a strong thesis even without a lot of hard evidence. For instance, replacing a bulky handheld barcode scanner with a hands-free wearable is an obvious enhancement. If you require more exact ROI, set up a controlled experiment or situation comparing the wearable solution with the old technology among two groups of similar users performing the same task. You can also conduct time trials and review past data to compare travel costs, number of errors, etc.



The wearable journey is one of discovery; if you don’t move on wearable and immersive technologies today, you will lose opportunities your competitors will seize. This guide should help you get started on the right track, so you can fail faster and rebound quicker on your way to a full-blown deployment.


photo credit: nodstrum Man with VR headset looking away at the objects – Credit to 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.

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.

3 Steps to Escaping Pilot Purgatory & Nailing Your Wearable Tech Pilot

Ever since I became involved in the wearable and immersive tech space, I’ve wondered how a digital revolution really gets underway in an organization. What goes on behind the scenes within organizations? What’s the best starting point? What are the most common mistakes made during the pilot phase? What should enterprises know before piloting or adopting wearables, and how can they avoid pilot purgatory? I spoke with Sanjay Jhawar, co-founder and president of RealWear, maker of the HMT-1 and HMT-1Z1, to get the inside scoop. Read on for best practice advice, pilot lessons, and steps to nailing a pilot:

In a May 2017 survey of companies exploring digital manufacturing strategies, 84% of respondents said they had been stuck in pilot mode for over a year, while less than 30% were beginning to scale (McKinsey & Co.) In another McKinsey report, 41% of industrial firms surveyed said they were in pilot limbo and 30% were still discussing how to start a pilot—that’s 71% stuck in pilot purgatory. Though these findings aren’t wearable tech-specific, a similar story holds across the industry spectrum—pilot purgatory remains a common dead end for companies pursuing wearable technologies like smart glasses and mixed reality headsets.

“Every sales cycle looks like this: Evaluation, pilot, deployment, scale-up. What’s exciting is that we have hundreds of evaluations and pilots, and a large handful now moving into full-scale, large deployments for their enterprises.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Though enterprise wearables are new tech, we’re beyond the first mover stage. At this point, there have been hundreds of pilots by early enterprise adopters for newcomers to learn from. Over the last several years, companies big and small in all areas of industry have tested wearables, making mistakes, establishing some best practices, and even making it to the rollout phase. Solution providers have also learned lessons. At RealWear, according to Sanjay, “the more pilots we do the faster they go.”  So, why do pilots fail? One root problem is the use case itself.

Step number one to nailing a pilot is finding a high-value, hole-in-one use case, and the best place to start is with those closest to the problem, i.e. real workers.

Step 1: Choose a viable use case

“The biggest pitfall is when there’s a customer [looking] for an AR wearable to solve a problem that may not exist. We’ve found that in the conservative world of industrial, pragmatic applications that provide value now as opposed to eye candy demos of AR are the way to go. When we get engaged with the operations, quality or training executive who owns the profit and loss for the specific problem, that’s when things go fast—solving for a specific pain point that yields measurable ROI.  We need to be talking to the executive that owns a seven-figure dollar problem that they must address in under 6 months.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Start simple by matching a known business problem or need to a wearable solution. To identify a “good” problem, you can, of course, look at past safety data, quality statistics, etc. to figure out where the business incurs the greatest risk of injury and profit loss; you should also brainstorm with actual end users by going out into the field or onto the factory floor and speaking with respected frontline workers.

Ask employees what tools and methods they use to access task-based information, get help from others, verify or record their work, and interact with customers on the job. Do they have any complaints about the tools they use? Have they come up with any makeshift solutions or hacks to speed up their work or make themselves more comfortable? When is vital information not at the ready or delivered to workers in an inconvenient, inefficient manner? Are you using the best training methods for a multigenerational, changing workforce? Try to pinpoint sources of error, fatigue and injury, paid travel and rework, downtime and customer dissatisfaction; and consider inserting a wearable. And if you have the resources, consider setting up a kind of hub for employees to try out new devices on their own.

Choosing a use case around a clear business problem will help you determine an appropriate wearable form factor and guide you to the right software partner. The enterprise wearable tech ecosystem has matured to the point where most hardware companies have multiple software partners and many software solutions are cross-device/platform. If working with a hardware provider like RealWear, consult with them to find a software match for your use case.

Step 2: Determine requirements

“[Our] type of customer, which is medium to heavy industrial, is very concerned about not violating any of their sacrosanct safety standards. We’ve also seen a heightened awareness in IT security.” “My biggest advice is to involve IT from the start, rather than hiding your project from IT in the hope that it will go faster…Try to understand and address IT’s objections as soon as possible, even if takes a few months, because when IT has weighed in as an internal stakeholder, you’ll have IT pulling for you. Remember that wearables are part of IT’s jurisdiction as it’s connected to the enterprise.” – Sanjay, RealWear

Security reviews following software selection are often the greatest hold-up in the pilot phase. It’s so important not to lose momentum, so engage with IT right away. Give them a sense of ownership, as Sanjay said, and they’ll try hard to make the solution compliant to the business’ needs. Support from IT will also be critical to scale up down the road.

In this step, work with IT as well as EHS (Environmental Health & Safety) to determine all the operational factors you would need to account for in order to deploy the technology. This includes security as well as usability, safety, connectivity, mobile device management, and training. Sanjay perfectly summarizes the process of setting up a pilot: “It’s really to say if we had to deploy this headwear, how would we do it?”

How would you integrate the tech into existing processes, systems and facilities? Determine the limits and requirements of the workplace and use case, including:

  • How many devices you will need to test and where the funds will come from
  • Who will participate and what are their needs (comfort, safety, ease of use)
  • How you will measure the results (what KPIs you will track) and for how long
  • Any aspects of the work environment itself that might interfere with use
  • The scope of current MDM platforms and policies
  • Industry safety requirements

Given these factors, what needs to be addressed, worked around or changed before the pilot begins? A common workaround, for instance, has been to deploy a wearables-only wireless network when the existing network’s security protocols are incompatible with the new tech.

Step 3: Wrap it up in 6 months or less

Time. Kills. All. Pilots. The longer it takes, the more risks there are that something will happen: The budget goes away, a new shiny object steals the focus, an organizational change or your sponsor changes roles or jobs. If it takes more than six months, it’s almost not going to succeed by definition. A successful pilot should take three months. What we recommend is to have entry and exit criteria defined and agreed in writing up-front while designing your pilot.”  – Sanjay, RealWear

Before pressing “Go,” prepare to measure results and gather feedback. Work with all stakeholders to define the pilot objectives and agree on a method for measuring success. Prepare the workers involved, as well, clearly explaining to them the potential benefits, assuaging concerns, and providing a channel for honest feedback. Hopefully you chose a use case based on a problem the entire organization wants to solve.

Common pilot killers:

  • Not knowing what problem you’re trying to solve (going tech-first)
  • Overly complex use case
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Lack of top management and IT support
  • Employees weren’t properly trained on the devices
  • Too much time: You want a quick win to prove the business case and justify next steps

A successful pilot should expose security vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement to work out and apply in the rollout phase. I asked Sanjay from RealWear if he could share any examples of improvements made to the HMT-1 as a result of pilot feedback:

The core hardware hasn’t really changed, but the software and accessories have evolved. On the accessories side, as one example, we started out with a head strap to attach the device to your head and clips for different types of hardhats…We eventually came up with a succession of different baseball cap mounting options but we didn’t have a way to accommodate an existing baseball cap without damaging it.”

In that case, workers wanted to be able to use the HMT-1 with their own baseball caps, so RealWear had to innovate, figuring out a way to combine form, function and user preference. The company recently came up with a special clip that achieves this. In another example, Sanjay recalled customers having trouble with Wi-Fi password entry using RealWear’s voice keyboard. While the voice tech was great for words or commands, it was less so for entering secure, enterprise-standard passwords. In response, RealWear is preparing to release a new voice keyboard with a radically improved user experience for entering complex text. The company also built more functionality into its smartphone companion app, allowing users to enter a Wi-Fi SSID and password and generate a QR code that the HMT-1 is scanning for with its camera, right out of the box on the very first power-up. “From using another device to configure, we’re moving towards a single sign-on in the Cloud which will take away the need for passwords altogether. That has been a lot of learning from end users and customers.”  – Sanjay, RealWear


About Sanjay Jhawar:

Sanjay Jhawar is Co-founder, President and Chief Product Officer at RealWear, makers of the world’s first head-mounted tablet computer, a wearable that completely frees the hands of industrial workers. Known as a strategist, innovator and leader for over 25 years, Sanjay has a deep product background in mobile devices, including smartphones and wearables, mobile SaaS cloud services, client apps, accessories and core network infrastructure. Prior to RealWear, Sanjay served on the senior executive teams at three tech startups:

  • VP/GM Solutions and Marketing at Sonim Technologies, maker of the world’s toughest mobile and smartphones for industrial and public safety users, a private company that quadrupled revenues to $115M in a 3-year period during Sanjay’s tenure
  • SVP Marketing and Product Management at BridgePort Networks who invented the telecom technology that lets you use voice and messages to your phone seamlessly between Wi-Fi and cellular networks
  • VP Marketing, Bus Dev and Product Management at Sendit AB in Sweden, a mobile email pioneer acquired by Microsoft in 1999 for $128M

Sanjay also product managed the world’s first Java based smart phone at Motorola and co-founded WAP Forum, the standards body for the early mobile Internet. Sanjay started his career at IBM and has also spent time in venture capital in Milan and Boston, and in consulting. He holds a Masters with Honors in Electric Engineering from Cambridge University.


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

Enterprise Wearables: Deployment Best Practices

How do you ensure a successful pilot or smooth rollout of wearable technology in your business?

First thing, did you choose a viable use case? Before you go ahead buying devices and signing contracts, take a step back: Did you identify the business problem or need? Does the wearable solution match or address that need? Wearable technologies like smart glasses aren’t right for every area, worker, process or task in your business. Not every use case requires the level of technology of AR or VR (as exciting as those devices are.) Go after the lower hanging fruit—obvious or very practical applications (ex. replacing simple paper-based work instructions with heads-up ones,) something that doesn’t have a great barrier to entry. Be realistic.

If you’re a small company or innovation team with limited funds or resources, don’t go after the more complex Augmented Reality use cases. You will have the chance to disrupt your business with AR as the market matures, but start by taking advantage of the basic features of smart glasses (like the hands-free form factor, front-facing camera) to make small but significant improvements and prove the value to others. A use case in which the technology is self-contained is a great starting point, where the solution doesn’t depend upon seamless integration with other systems or complicated software development. Enabling field workers to share their view of a problem with a remote SME is a great use case if you have the necessary connectivity abilities; as is leveraging your existing WMS or CRM to deliver the same information workers already use in a better form factor. Later on, you can develop additional applications for the same device, ones that rely on 3D models for content or a real-time IoT data stream.

Next, did you select scalable hardware? Consider how many devices you will ultimately need to deploy. If you’re eyeing a particular wearable device, make sure that 1) The company can deliver beyond the pilot phase; 2) The device has been proven in the field; and 3) There is an ecosystem of manufacturers and developers to support it. Also figure out who is going to develop the application for the device: Will you develop in-house or partner with an enterprise wearable software provider? This will affect the use case and hardware choice.

Determine limits and requirements of the workplace. How strong is the connectivity where your workers are? How great is the bandwidth? Does the work environment change often, as in field service or construction? Is there steelwork or concrete that might interfere with new tech? Does your business take workers underground or to remote work sites? These are important questions to ask in assessing the viability of, say, a remote support use case: Is the solution going to be very difficult to implement? Will it be unreliable? Don’t set yourself up for failure.

Furthermore, consider the safety requirements of your industry: Are workers allowed to carry or wear devices on the job? What PPE do your workers currently use? If a pair of smart glasses cannot be used with gloves or a hardhat; if it can’t accommodate or replace standard safety glasses; if it can’t withstand drops or is distracting, then it’s the wrong piece of hardware. You might instead consider passive data collection devices that monitor biometrics, ergonomics, environmental conditions, etc., and have a quick ROI; or a simple wearable button that can be pressed to alert a dispatcher of something.

Get out there! End users and experts agree, it’s important to get wearable technologies out in the field or on the factory floor with your workers sooner rather than later (another reason to begin with a slam dunk use case.) There is deployable technology that works for enterprises today, that improves actual processes and makes the workplace safer. It’s not just about getting ahead of the competition—introduce these tools now so that when the technology is more manageable, your workforce will already be familiar with it. Moreover, starting today will put your organization in a position to influence the market by leaning on the hardware and software vendors to meet your enterprise requirements.

People are excited about emerging technologies: Employees do want to ditch their handbooks and tablets; customers do want to view designs in AR or VR. Again, be careful not to roll out too fast or too complex, thereby guaranteeing negative feedback right away as well as less willing users in the future.

Small, controlled deployment of volunteers. Begin with a small, manageable deployment, such as one or two groups of workers of varying ages and skill levels—a team of employees who haven’t used the technology before but want to participate. It’s important to not get a false negative from the start and to be able to accurately track results. You want workers who are open to new technologies and respected by their peers to see if the solution works.

With any change in process – something new that must be done to get a task done – comes a psychological change for workers. Come prepared with a model for change management: How are you going to make the transition painless for your employees? How will you make the use of a wearable standard work procedure?

If the use case involves tracking personal health information, assure workers they won’t be monitored or disciplined, even make it anonymous. Explain the intent behind the technology (ex. to keep them safe.) It’s critical to present the use case to the actual end users, to meet their needs and make their jobs easier. On this note, comfort and wearability are key. If the process you’re attempting to disrupt requires workers to be very aware, the technology has to be comfortable and non-distracting. A wearable device can either help increase a worker’s awareness of his/her environment or get in the way; be confident that the new tech is better than the existing.

Test often and get a lot of feedback.

Engage with end users right away; bring a small group in at the proof of concept stage to help develop the use case, and get continuous feedback as you roll out the solution in order to keep improving it. Get feedback for every iteration of the technology you test. You might even use telemetry to determine if workers are using the devices, and which features of the solution are most or hardly used.

Properly train employees.

Many users are excited about HMDs but often they expect to be able to put on a device, open an app like Facebook, and immediately get to work. Software developers should keep this in mind: The solution must be easy to use, as easy as putting on the wearable and 90 seconds later using the app to carry out the task at hand. For workers to use it every day, it has to be intuitive to operate. If a worker cannot figure out how to get to the next step in the application, they will put down the device. Make sure each end user knows how to use the app entirely, for the entire workflow; and remember that the level of tech you can develop in the lab doesn’t always translate “in the wild” (on the shop floor.) These paradigms are new and still developing; be mindful that this could be the first wearable device or AR tool your workers have ever used.


About EWTS Fall 2017:

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


Applications and Hardware: 18 Guiding Questions for Your Business

Trying to get started on your enterprise wearables journey? How do you determine a good use case or figure out which technology is right for your work environment and workforce? Here are some helpful guiding questions and key considerations for identifying potential business cases:

  1. Are your standard work procedures still paper-based? Where in your operations do workers rely on paper instructions, manuals, lists, schematics or forms? Is the use of paper-based tools a source of inefficiency? Is it feasible to digitize this information? Would a wearable mode of delivery be more effective?
  2. Do workers use smartphones, tablets or other hand-held devices to carry out processes? Is it a problem that these devices are fragile and not hands-free in your work environment or in certain scenarios? Do they cause accidents? Do workers always carry these devices with them? Do they break often? Can you deliver the same information hands-free?
  3. Which processes require delivering work instructions to employees on the line, in the field, or with a customer? Where is that information located? Could you make it more readily available (bring it closer) to the worker? How do workers access or receive task-critical information? Is this method ergonomically in line with the task? Is it real-time info? Where would delivering instructions in a heads-up, hands-free manner make a difference? What about information from legacy systems?
  4. Where would employees benefit from frequent reminders about standard work or safety procedures? How about task prompts (ex. pick the next part, ask a customer something, put on the correct PPE?) Could you push simple but critical data, alerts and prompts to workers via a glanceable wearable device or with haptic technology?
  5. Which processes or tasks require workers to travel to get to a problem, access information, file a report or seek help? How much time does this add to the process? Can you cut down travel time with wearable tech?
  6. When do you have to bring in an SME? Could you instead train the employee in the field to fix the issue, to do what the SME would do? Would providing the field tech with on-demand, step-by-step instructions, videos and/or remote support enable him to diagnose and solve the problem by him/herself?
  7. Where does machine or vehicle downtime cost the business greatly? What delays repair? Is there a way to insert wearables into the process to reduce downtime and maintain productivity?
  8. Which processes require documentation or record keeping (for compliance, proof of service, quality inspection reports?) How do workers currently document issues? Can you make this easier, more accurate and faster with smart glasses? If you mainly want to make use of a hands-free, front-facing camera (to document a job, perform audits, etc.) do you need an advanced AR headset? Do you want to communicate this data in real-time, therefore requiring strong, reliable connectivity?
  9. Where are your customers located? Are they standing beside the worker as the job is performed? Do they need to approve of a design before manufacturing or building commences? Do they need to travel to your location to view a design or product, or do the designers/salespersons travel to them? Do they want progress updates? Do they trust you?
  10. What sales tools do you currently employ? Would immersive visualization be a more persuasive tool with your client base? How long does it take from sales pitch to closure? Would you close more deals on the spot using AR/VR? Could you provide customers with the right info at the right time through a wearable app to make their experience better? What information would that be? Would interacting with your customers through their wearable devices or having your employees use wearables when dealing with the customer (for remote visual sales, viewing personalized data from a CRM) improve customer service and increase sales?
  11. How are workers currently trained? Using videos, PowerPoints, written tests? How long does that take? How much does it cost? Is it effective? Do they require retraining? Would an AR/VR simulation be a better method? Could you provide on-the-job, just-in-time training with smart glasses?
  12. Do your employees carry heavy loads or work in non-ergonomic positions (ex. looking up, bending, lifting, overstretching, twisting) Would behavior modification with a wearable sensor and alert solution improve safety? In assessing exoskeleton technology, consider price and usability—Do the workers’ comp savings make up for the cost of the devices? How practical is the tech on the factory floor? How much time does it take to put on and take off the device? Is it possible to give one to each worker or do they have to share?
  13. Who is the end user? What are their pain points? Ask them outright. Do they need the use of both hands? When they encounter a problem, do they have to leave their work area to tell someone? Do they have to communicate the issue multiple times? What are their most error-prone tasks? Are they at risk for repetitive motion injuries? Do they have to remember procedures or recall a lot of information? Could you remove the cognitive and/or physical stress of their jobs with a wearable solution?
  14. Is a large segment of your workforce coming upon retirement age? How are you going to replace them? Can you use wearable tech to capture their knowledge and expertise, to recruit new workers?
  15. How long is your design review process? Who is involved and where are they located? How do people work together on a design? Is the customer included in the process? What slows down the process (communications, use of physical or 2D models?) Would immersive visualization or a virtual meeting space help collapse design time and avoid rework? Would it save money to manipulate a design virtually instead of using iterative models? Where will you find the content for virtual design?
  16. Where does your business suffer from poor planning and communication, from design to execution, operation and maintenance?
  17. Do you have facilities or offices all over the country/world? How do people in different locations communicate or collaborate with one another? When a piece of equipment goes down, how long does it take before the right person can correct the issue? Where is the right person or expert located? See-what-I-see might be the answer, but users must be able to connect from the work site to stream video.
  18. Does your business involve a high level of customization or variability? Do you manufacture custom-order products? How do you deal with customization in the factory? Do workers have to be cross-trained, remember a lot of information, or rotate jobs frequently? Can wearable technology help minimize this complexity?

Lastly, study other use cases, and not necessarily ones from your industry. Events like EWTS are great because most enterprises have strikingly similar business problems and requirements. It might surprise you to know that an aerospace company can learn a lot from a surgeon (even Mars scientists are using AR to collaborate from all over the globe.) First, identify the business problem; then find a technology solution that matches the need.


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


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. 

Making the Case for Wearables in Your Organization

The marriage of business and IT

Making wearables a success in the enterprise does not fall on any one individual or organization; it requires a team effort across business units within an organization seeking to use these devices, as well as a group mentality among the various stakeholders in the enterprise wearable tech space.

Within an organization that is evaluating wearables, IT needs to work closely with business leaders and vice versa to avoid failure. Multiple perspectives are necessary to plan and execute a wearable program, including from IT (technical), the business side (say, operations) and then, of course, real users. As PowerStream’s James Ilari said on a panel at EWTS ’16 this past summer: “Business units and IT are often on different ends of the spectrum, and don’t know what [the other] is doing. [IT needs] to work with the business side, engage them and get them to be more proactive.”

As the team lead of Emerging Technologies and Strategy within Information Services at PowerStream, James did just that, partnering with a business liaison – a well-respected senior worker – to bridge the divide. In addition to observing workers and thinking about how to help them, James’ team spoke with business leaders to “find out their aspirations for their departments,” and invited them to sit in on vendor meetings, so that it didn’t seem like “something IT was trying to push onto the business” but rather something mutual.

This is how you gain traction and support for a wearable initiative, by facilitating a working partnership between business and IT early on; and it’s also how to best make the case for wearables. So, IT should first find out criteria from workers and business leaders, and include them in device evaluation efforts as well as in setting up the parameters for a pilot. This approach helps avoid pushback and speed up the testing process, and goes a long way towards creating a successful pilot with appropriate hardware and KPIs in mind.

J.P. Gownder, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, speaking to the technology leaders in the EWTS audience: “You need to work closely with business leaders [to] develop the business case. These tools are meant to drive business outcomes (productivity, sales conversions, revenue.) Have a hypothesis in mind and track KPIs…This is a business tech investment, so you want to have KPIs in place from the very beginning to prove this investment is useful.”

Wherever the idea to explore wearables generates – whether within IT or another department, with management or even among the workforce – the “spearheading” party has to make its case to the rest of the organization. Notice I said “make” the case as opposed to “prove” it: Oftentimes, the case for exploring wearables must be made before a pilot can begin—in order to get the go-ahead from management to make a preliminary investment for and secure employees to participate in the pilot.

So how do you go about making your case? Take it from some real end users:

Getting your foot in the door

According to Blake Burnette, Director of Equipment Research and Development at Baker Hughes, if you can “get up high enough” to demo a wearable device, management will surely embrace it and give you the green light to pursue a pilot. “Expose the people at the top to the benefit” by conducting a little show-and-tell and allowing the (hands-free) tech to speak for itself. As for security concerns, Blake says, “If your device doesn’t do anything it wasn’t designed to do, then you have security.”

Zac Penix, Manager of Emerging Technologies at the AES Corporation, offered a bold “trick” for achieving full adoption within an industrial enterprise subject to safety regulations: Instead of just trying to roll out something like a Fitbit internally, go directly to the standards body for your industry (ex. OSHA) and explain how employing the wearable will make workers safer. “Talk to the people who make the safety and cybersecurity standards for your industry” right away. When those individuals understand how tracking a worker’s heart rate via a simple wearable device can allow for quicker safety responses in high-risk scenarios, they’ll become the most effective champions of the technology. “Explain why [wearable tech] makes people safer then have [OSHA] require all operations to use it. It sounds crazy, and will [likely take a few years] but it is a surefire way to have your wearable integrated [into] the mass market.”

In medicine, simplicity is what buys you a foot in the door, says UMass emergency medicine physician and toxicology fellow Dr. Peter Chai: “Simple software architecture that doesn’t require much maintenance goes a long way. In the ER, you need something simple. It’s a chaotic scene.” The simple route is a wise one for many industries, not just in healthcare where doctors often don’t have a tech background and hospital IT is already dealing with EHR and privacy challenges.

On top of the chaos and privacy issues, Peter also noted that physicians can be very hard to change and thus persuade to use new technologies. Healthcare is also a slow-moving industry: “There’s this culture where everything moves so slowly. [It can take] 16 months to get a grant funded and by then the wearable world has changed by leaps and bounds. We don’t have the funding to stay ahead of these things, so we negotiate with [solution providers. We say,] ‘give us a steep discount, and we’ll give you the data, a foot into healthcare and insight into the security issues behind the devices.’”

Stanford’s Dr. Homero Rivas painted a similar picture: “By the time you go through all the studies to implement something new [in medicine,] it’s already obsolete. We need to implement innovative business models. The most successful route [might be to target] patients or consumers, because they will [arguably] be the best advocates for their health.” This is not all that dissimilar from Zac Penix’s idea of cutting corners by going directly to a regulatory body—appeal to the most powerful potential stakeholder in order to more quickly push through a wearable initiative.


Wearables just make sense in many enterprise scenarios; it’s not a difficult argument to make. For instance, Mobile workers need their hands free to perform their jobs; handheld devices slow them down and create room for error–clear and simple. It’s a matter of understanding your industry, or your unique business and the players involved, to determine the right tactic for presenting the argument. But while pitching your case may earn you a pilot program, it doesn’t ensure adoption down the road; pilot results do, and these don’t have to be dramatic numerical results.

J.P. Gownder: “Proof of concepts and trials are critical. Often, you’ll want to use multiple hardware platforms in these tests. [It is] critical to work on this in an iterative fashion where you capture the learnings and improve over time. [It’s] a wearables journey, not off-the-shelf or always simple but [certainly] worthwhile.

*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. 

Defining New Realities: Augmented, Virtual and Mixed

It’s a new year, so let’s start it off on the right foot or, rather, in the right reality. First item on the agenda: Clarifying our use of the terms AR, VR and MR.

As a larger community, enterprise wearable tech users, solution providers, experts and enthusiasts need to get on the same page in 2017. For one, they need to see “eye to eye” when it comes to distinguishing between Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality, for there are too many conflicting definitions out there. We cannot communicate and problem solve across industries without common understanding or a common framework.

Differing classifications for AR, VR and MR make clear communication between solution providers and end users problematic. Solution providers seem to have their own unique ways of not only describing the different realities but also of categorizing their own solutions; while end users often don’t fully understand the current capabilities and limitations of these technologies, or appreciate which “reality” would best serve their business needs.

Sibling technologies? Kissing cousins? Competing realities? And is MR truly a combination of both AR and VR?

It seems most people get the concept of Virtual Reality; it’s the differences between Augmented Reality and Mixed Reality that are less clear. End users and experts don’t seem to be on the same page, with everyone describing these new realities differently and some even throwing the term “Assisted Reality” into the mix. Let’s consider how several insiders are explaining AR, VR and MR; and then we will offer our own set of descriptions as a unifying framework for ongoing discussion.

J.P. Gownder (VP and Principal Analyst, Forrester Research) laid the academic groundwork for us during his presentation at EWTS ’16: According to this expert, Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Mixed Reality are a set of experiences that lie upon a continuum known as the Virtuality Continuum between the Real World and the Digital World (composed entirely of pixels.) These experiences are created using “fictitious or recorded content that [was once] in the real world but is now pixelated.” Main takeaway: AR, VR and MR are different experiences that extend upon the real world—all part of what J.P. called the “Extended Reality revolution.”

So how does an expert like Gownder define the three experiences?

  • AR: One possible experience is to augment what you see by superimposing information either off to the side or on top of your field of view. (Some people distinguish between AR, in which digital info appears over your field of view, and Assisted Reality, in which information appears in a corner of your vision.)
  • VR: You can also “augment the virtual world” in what J.P . terms “Augmented Virtuality.” Good VR is achieved through 3D imagery, 360-degree viewpoints, and 3D sound—all contributing to a highly immersive experience.
  • MR: J.P. approached MR as “a special case of AR with some VR characteristics.” Instead of mere superimposed information, MR features interactive holograms integrated into the user’s real world.

On the solution side, Atheer’s Christian Prusia had a slightly different take on AR, describing it as an experience in which you see the natural world but there is a “computer overlay” that follows you, remaining in your field of view even when you turn your head. “AR is aware of the real world but the UI is floating, not fixed.” MR, on the other hand, involves mapping the real world and tying a computer image to a fixed (anchor) point in real space. Finally, in VR, “everything is fake.”

So, again, AR involves a computer overlay of information in your field of view. This information can be contextual but the display is not anchored in the real world; it moves with you. VR is an entirely generated digital experience in a virtual space; and MR consists of computer images that appear to exist within and relate to the user’s real environment.

Joakim Elvander of Sony focused more closely on the nuances among and different uses for AR, MR and what some call Assisted Reality:

  • AR involves “in-field-of-view graphics,” and is most appropriate in those cases where there is a need for superimposed information yet it is still important to see the real world. (Your FOV remains largely unobstructed.)
  • MR features “3D models [attached] to an anchor in the real-world environment,” and is great for visualization. Reality is “just a backdrop” in this experience; the user is viewing and interacting with the computer-generated model, making for a potentially obstructive experience (because MR is more immersive than AR.)
  • Joakim also used the term “side-screen” in describing an experience like Assisted Reality, or what one might see through a pair of Google Glass. Assisted Reality involves purely textual or basic visual information that is not necessarily tied to the real world.

Confused yet? Some clarification is in order. Part of the problem lies in how solution providers like Christian and Joakim self-categorize or refer to their own technologies. Both used rather unique verbiage or phrasing above, while Gownder – representing Academia – drew upon the long history of these technologies. End users, for their part, seem to seek to define AR, VR and MR in terms of how they are applying them. Below we offer our own “definitive guide” to the differences among the new realities:

The EnterpriseWear Definitive Guide to AR, VR and MR

AR, VR and MR are three technologies that all create a computer-generated reality for the user to participate in, optimally through some kind of head-mounted display. Each one, however, presents its version of reality in a unique way, with computer-generated objects and images ranging from basic text and visuals to convincing holograms to lifelike simulations. What sets the three apart from one another is how those objects interact with the user and his or her environment.

Augmented Reality involves overlaying digital content onto the real world. In this experience, the user is still very aware of and can interact with his environment. For the sake of simplicity, I would argue that Assisted Reality is Augmented Reality, whether the computer-generated overlay appears in front of both eyes or just in the corner of one. The digital content can be quite basic (i.e. arrows and other universal symbols, simple text or drawn lines, perhaps triggered by your location or a verbal command or put there by a remote expert) or it might be more elaborate (a building plan, for ex.); but the information cannot be manipulated in a dynamic way and will remain in your field of view as you turn your head with your heads-up display on.

Mixed Reality is like the wild card in the discussion, often used interchangeably with AR though they are not the same. MR is more immersive than AR but less so than VR, blurring the line between the digital and real worlds more than AR but not replacing the real world with an entirely virtual experience as VR does.

MR is capable of 3D mapping the real world and superimposing convincing holographic images onto reality; the holograms are responsive to the real world because they are integrated into the user’s environment. Think of it this way: In AR, digital content appears on top of your view of the real world, but in MR holograms and other 3D content appear to share the user’s space and are receptive to both the user’s interaction and changes in the real-world environment.

Whereas AR and MR are additive experiences, Virtual Reality is immersive, creating a computer-generated environment that replaces the real world. The user interacts solely within this virtual world. So, in VR, your view of the real world – the real room you are standing in – disappears, being replaced with a virtual space filled with virtual objects and moving elements with which you can interact.

  • How do you distinguish among AR, VR and MR? Agree or disagree with our descriptions? Care to make your own suggestions or further clarifications? Let us know in the comments below. Let us, as a community, come up with one universal set of definitions. 


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.