December 4, 2018
This year was going to be the year of augmented reality, but by the end of 2018 market analysts were pointing to 2020 or 2021 as the “golden year” of AR. While wearable technologies, including wearable XR, didn’t exactly “blow up” this year, the technology did further entrench itself in enterprise—the number of companies in the evaluation stage rose significantly, several large deployments made headlines, and solution providers continued to partner and expand their products to more platforms. Magic Leap finally dropped to mixed reviews and BrainXchange published its Definitive Guide to Adopting Wearables, AR and VR in Enterprise. Going into 2019, the industry eagerly awaits HoloLens 2 and Glass Enterprise Edition 2, as rumors swirl around the possibility of AR glasses from Apple and/or Facebook in the near future. Read on for a recap of the major developments that took place in 2018:
Enterprises that made the news for using wearables:
In 2018, major retailers got more serious about XR in hopes of competing with Amazon and improving the shopping experience. Walmart was very active, beginning with its acquisition of VR startup Spatialand in February. Just three months ago, the company revealed it’s putting 17,000 Oculus Go headsets in Walmart stores for employee training. In March, Macy’s announced it would use VR to sell furniture in 50 of its stores. The pilot, which used an iPad and HTC Vive powered by Marxent’s 3D Cloud Service, showed that VR increases average order value by 60%. And this year, Lowe’s extended its use of mixed reality to employee training and rolled out more XR experiences aimed at solving customers’ challenges.
Training, of course, was a huge application area, with banks and even restaurants employing XR to recruit and train the next generation of workers. Among those using AR/VR for training were logistics company DB Schenker, telecom giant Verizon, and hotel chain Hyatt. Honeywell also announced plans to use XR to transfer skills to millennials and revealed the new Honeywell Connected Plant solution for industrial field workers, which combines the RealWear HMT-1Z1 with Honeywell’s Movilizer platform.
In aviation and aerospace, Lockheed Martin’s space division received attention for its use of MR headsets and software by Scope AR to build spacecraft faster, as did Bell Helicopter for using HTC Vive to drastically accelerate the helicopter design process. Meanwhile, Boeing and Delta Air Lines have been testing exoskeletons to augment employee safety; and both companies joined the exoskeleton advisory group X-TAG launched by Sarcos Robotics in March.
The auto industry’s adoption of wearable and immersive technologies showed no signs of slowing down in 2018, from Porsche’s new Tech Live Look system to Ford’s Immersive Vehicle Environment Lab (FiVE). Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Audi and Mazda all drank from the XR Kool-Aid; and RealWear’s HMT-1 was the device of choice for pilot programs at Lexus and Volkswagen. In addition to using XR for vehicle design, Ford also rolled out the EksoVest to 15 of its plants to reduce injuries.
After years of secrecy and hype, Magic Leap finally released its first developer kit in August for $2,295. At its first developer conference in October, the company spoke of a few upcoming enterprise-facing apps; and in November, Magic Leap announced a creator fund to encourage designers to develop apps for the Magic Leap One. The company’s direction is unclear.
As usual, Vuzix was incredibly busy in 2018, demoing the first Amazon Alexa-enabled smart glasses at CES; launching the first commercial release of Vuzix Blade; receiving its largest M300 order to date from AMA XPertEye as well as a follow-up order by SATS; partnering with Plessey Semiconductor to increase the processing power of future Vuzix smart glasses; and completing pilots with companies like H-E-B.
RealWear had a great year, which included the unveiling of the intrinsically safe HMT-1Z1 at AWE USA; the release of RealWear Foresight cloud platform at EWTS 2018; and an announcement in October that Colgate-Palmolive is rolling out the HMT-1 across 20 facilities. Epson announced Upskill’s Skylight platform for the new Moverio BT-250 ANSI Edition; and, in a move to expand its audience, launched the Moverio BT 35-E Smart Glasses, which can connect to popular output devices for new enterprise applications. Toshiba upgraded its software engine to create Vision DE Suite 2.0, and expanded the partner program for its dynaEdge AR Smart Glasses to include Atheer’s AiR platform, Ubimax’s Frontline application suite, and ACS’ Timer Pro. HoloLens got a major software update, and Microsoft introduced new enterprise mixed reality applications like Microsoft Remote Assist and Microsoft Layout.
In other hardware news, Qualcomm unveiled the Snapdragon Wear 3100, a new low-power chipset designed for smartwatches; as well as the Snapdragon XR1, the first chip specially made for standalone XR devices with accompanying reference design. Kopin announced the Golden-I Infinity, essentially an attachable smart screen that turns any pair of eyewear into an AR display.
In the virtual reality space, HTC targeted enterprise with the debut of the Vive Pro VR Kit intended for work applications like training and design. In November, the company launched Vive Focus, a standalone HMD for enterprise, as well as collaboration tool Sync. And in July, Oculus began shipping Oculus Go for Business, a bundle including not only the headset and accessories but also an extended commercial warranty and dedicated support, for $299 each.
In 2018, Gilbane, Bosch Power Tools and KPE Building all adopted Triax’s Spot-r system to detect falls, track the location of workers and equipment, and improve safety on the job. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Gear S3 smartwatch continued to make inroads into the enterprise: Samsung partnered with DataXoom to provide LTE data coverage for custom-developed smartwatch applications; worked with Viceroy Hotel Group and hotel operations platform ALICE to create a smartwatch solution for the hotel industry; and teamed up with HSBC to test the Gear S3’s impact on customer service in banking.
Exoskeletons have arrived. In addition to Ford’s rollout of the EksoVest this year, Hyundai began testing exoskeletons to aid workers with repetitive overhead tasks and two new exoskeletons came onto the market: Comau’s MATE for repetitive tasks and the LG CLOi SuitBot for heavy lifting and tool operation. We also learned that Sarcos Robotics’ Guardian XO and XO Max exoskeletons are coming out in a little over a year; and on the haptics side of VR, the HaptX Gloves Development Kit debuted, offering touch feedback and natural interaction in VR training and design applications.
In 2018, the platforms we know (and love) matured and expanded to a broader array of devices: In March, Scope AR announced ARCore support for its Remote AR application. Soon after, the company merged Remote AR with its WorkLink application, creating one new AR platform offering real-time remote assistance and smart instructions. Scope also revealed it achieved 99% faster completion rates for some of the tasks in Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing operations.
AMA and Proceedix partnered to deliver a comprehensive solution for industrial sites with multiple use cases for smart glasses. Atheer revealed the “world’s first Augmented Reality Management Platform,” a cloud-based, device-agnostic solution aimed at helping companies tackle challenges related to change, connectivity, talent and complexity. Upskill unveiled Skylight for Mobile as well as support for Microsoft HoloLens, allowing customers to leverage the Skylight AR platform across multiple devices and experiences; and RE’FLEKT built a new standard enterprise operating system atop REFLEKT ONE. With an extensive partner program, the new system enables workers to use visual (AR) guidance as an out-of-the-box integration. In June, RE’FLEKT also launched Sync, a software solution designed to further simplify the transformation of existing technical documentation and CAD data into AR applications.
A number of reports and studies circulated in 2018. Notable among them were AREA’s ROI report, calculator and case study; an ABI Research report predicting that the AR hardware market will eventually diverge according to differing enterprise and consumer requirements; and research out of the University of Maryland indicating that people learn and retain information better through immersive experiences.
EPRI continued to study the potential benefits and risks of equipping utility workers with AR devices; IDC relieved worries about declining VR headset shipments, pointing out that commercial pilots are picking up; two-thirds of respondents in a Capgemini survey said they believe AR will be more applicable to their organizations than VR; and a joint report by PTC and Aberdeen showed that AR adopters have best-in-class factory operations, service and training.
I think we can safely predict that VR training will be huge in 2019 and expect to see more see-what-I-see applications for smart glasses and hopefully more content-creation solutions for non-AEC organizations. In the new year, I’d personally like to see more peer-reviewed, scientific research on the health effects of wearables on different user groups, including prolonged use of XR HMDs and exoskeletons. And with the arrival of Magic Leap and a storm of rumors about upcoming consumer devices from Apple and Facebook, I think 2019 is finally the year to talk about consumer-facing AR/VR applications in enterprise.
Image source: Walmart Corporate
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.