Enterprise Wearables: What to Consider in Choosing Hardware

Written BY

Emily Friedman

November 30, 2017

Watch Ramon Llamas, Research Manager at IDC, take leaders at General Dynamics Electric Boat, Gulfstream Aerospace, Duke Energy, Rogers-O’Brien Construction, and Atheer through the hardware considerations of wearables in enterprise. Whether used in designing submarines or to provide power and gas to millions of people, an enterprise wearable device has to suit both the environment in which it is used and the user or wearer in terms of ergonomics and performance.  

Key Learnings and Takeaways:

Hardware considerations are first and foremost in beginning one’s wearable journey in the enterprise, and often the customer is internal—a group of workers. Ramon does a great job of eliciting key words of advice from the panelists, like this takeaway from Ken Fast of General Dynamics Electric Boat: Things can take a long time to implement in a large company, so maintain a kind of childlike excitement about the technology.

Ken develops solutions to support those who design and build nuclear submarines at General Dynamics. He points out that employees who only need a few minutes of textual instruction before doing, say, half an hour of work don’t really need a heads-up display—a tablet is fine. But for employees requiring constant guidance, Augmented Reality glasses are desirable to feed them information at every step of a process. The shortcomings of current hardware options are significant here because while AR glasses would be ideal, many models are ill-fitting at the moment. You can imagine if the information or data shown to the worker has to align precisely with the real world (ex. installation info,) glasses that slip or move around won’t do.

Drew Holbrook of Gulfstream Aerospace advises listeners to keep pushing through the roadblocks. In addition to looking at emerging technologies for engineering, marketing and training; Drew works with designers at Gulfstream to bring Virtual Reality tools to Gulfstream’s customers to help them visualize their private jets. To do that, the technology has to look as real as possible, with good resolution and color clarity.

Each aircraft Gulfstream sells is unique; the cabin configuration, interior design, materials, paint job, etc. are all selected by the customer. The concept is to take a VR headset to the client to let him experience the design. In this case, the user experience and performance are important, for the client’s virtual experience will reflect upon Gulfstream’s brand. (Drew also mentioned device tracking—when implementing wearables into your operations, consider how you’ll track and maintain them once you’ve scaled up the solution. What happens when a device fails or is dropped?)

Don’t believe everything you see in videos until you try it yourself, warns Aleksandar Vukojevic. Having tested many HMDs at Duke Energy, Aleksandar has determined that hardware choice ultimately depends upon the use case and what kind of information will be displayed. If remote communication is the main use case, for instance, factors like resolution and speed matter. The working environment presents its own barriers that affect hardware selection, especially in electric utilities where jobs are dangerous, safety-rated glasses are required, and connectivity is an issue. Since electrical workers must be a certain distance away from a power line to use metal objects, device components currently prevent their use of most smart eyewear. (Again, environment and user.)

Keep it simple is another piece of wisdom, this one from Todd Wynne of Rogers-O’Brien, who suggests focusing on making the wearer’s life easier and safer. For Todd, that person is the construction worker with a wrench in hand who needs easily consumable information to make quality decisions within a tight building schedule.

On a construction site, documentation and safety are critical. Building doesn’t stop for rain; there’s dust everywhere and things break easily. Workers need to stay hydrated and be constantly aware of their surroundings and movement. Key wearable hardware considerations, therefore, are user interface and display (easy to use, glanceable,) as well as ruggedness and form factor (non-intrusive.) The device has to be invisible; workers should be able to forget about them.

A software partner can really help in the hardware evaluation process. Theo Goguely from Atheer recommends going about it systematically, creating a kind of matrix or graph of all possible devices on one axis and all use cases within your organization on another in order to find your sweet spots. There isn’t one best piece of hardware for a business—within an organization, different devices will be best for different use cases and the device won’t necessarily be a wearable.

It all comes down to where and by who the technology is to be used: A $3,000 HoloLens headset isn’t necessary to pick a box off of a warehouse shelf; a smaller monocular device is more appropriate. It’s not a specs race, so figure out the device that will give the “guy on the ground” just the information he needs. And if the technology isn’t there yet (i.e you need it to be intrinsically safe,) begin exploring your software options and training on a tablet if possible, or target a different use case in a less demanding environment while the hardware catches up to its potential.

Further Reading