January 2, 2017
2016 was the year that, yes, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality dominated the conversation: New headsets were released, Snapchat and Pokémon Go introduced AR to the masses, and a Magic Leap teaser video sparked both enthusiasm and skepticism. Have AR and VR truly arrived? Arguably, not yet, though many enterprises are certainly open to them and recognize their potential. Both technologies have a long way to go still (yes, we’d all like untethered VR and a wider FOV for the HoloLens); but whether you’re Team Augmented or Team Virtual, new realities will change the way we view and share information, create, collaborate and work from now on.
Smartwatches and other wrist-worn devices, on the other hand, were undoubtedly on the back burner this past year, with media attention still mainly relegated to the consumer (fitness) realm. Read on for our end-of-the-year rundown of the top use cases and solution developments to come out of 2016.
A number of enterprises made headlines for experimenting with and adopting wearables in 2016
Lee Company, a major residential and commercial heating, cooling, appliance and facilities solutions company, set the bar with the largest enterprise rollout of wearable technology to date—500 pairs of Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses featuring XOEye Technologies’ custom software. Likewise, DHL Supply Chain took its wearables journey to the next level following a successful trial in the Netherlands: The logistics giant said it was expanding its use of smart glasses-enabled vision picking “across different industry sectors on a global scale.”
Several UK companies, including Dawsons Music, AMARI Super Cars and Heal’s, adopted a smart glasses solution from GoInStore to connect remote online shoppers with in-store employees. Other retailers, including Lowe’s, IKEA and online home goods seller Wayfair, introduced AR and VR to help customers shop for their homes.
In the automotive industry, BMW developers began using HTC Vive headsets to collaborate from all over the world and test out different car features and driving scenarios (goodbye, expensive vehicle prototypes!); and Jaguar unveiled its first-ever electric car with a dramatic VR product launch. It was also speculated in 2016 that Tesla has been working with APX Labs to reap the productivity benefits of smart glasses at its Fremont factory.
Newport News Shipbuiding, manufacturer of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines, was accepted into the first wave of the HoloLens developer program—the company’s AR team has been exploring applications for Microsoft’s Mixed Reality headset in shipbuilding ever since. Meanwhile, with the help of APX Labs, aerospace giant Boeing cut production time of aircraft wire harnesses in half by using Google Glass in lieu of error-prone, PDF-based assembly instructions on laptops. And still another manufacturer – this time of elevators – revealed big plans for AR in 2016: ThyssenKrupp Elevator, which builds and maintains elevators worldwide, developed software for the HoloLens to train repairmen and allow workers to access tutorials and outside help on the job.
When it came to keeping workers safe, Caterpillar and North Star Bluescope Steel set an example. The construction equipment giant developed an AR app with EWTS 2017 sponsor Scope AR to help workers in the field communicate with remote expert assistants; in addition to developing the Fitbit-like Cat Smartband designed to safeguard against worker fatigue accidents on the job. Caterpillar has also been using VR headsets to cut time out of the concept and design phase of engineering its products. And North Star worked with IBM to tap into both wearable technology and IBM’s Watson IoT platform to monitor employees working in dangerous environments.
And in the public sector, Dr. Peter R. Chai, emergency medicine physician and toxicology fellow at UMass, appeared on CNBC to speak about his experience with Google Glass and share his vision for the future of wearable technology in medicine. The DHS also showed up in the news a few times for its EMERGE 2016: Wearable Technology program, the goal of which has been to discover state-of-the-art commercial wearables than can be modified for use by first responders.
Catch leaders from many of the major enterprises above sharing their cutting-edge work with wearables at EWTS 2017, including: George Bowser, Senior Director of Solutions Design at DHL Supply Chain; Chris Dockery, Ergonomics Specialist at BMW; Dan McDonald, AR Engineer at Newport News Shipbuilding; Brian Laughlin and Paul Davies of Boeing; Thomas Felis, VP of Innovation at ThyssenKrupp Elevator; Lonny Johnson, Senior Engineering Project Team Leader at Caterpillar; Dr. Peter Chai of UMASS; and John Merrill from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
On the solution side, a number of developments in 2016 indicated the continuing growth and maturation of the enterprise wearable tech space
There were at least two signs this past year that wearables in the workplace have “made it,” or at least arrived in a big way. First, Zebra Technologies’ Tom Bianculli, now VP of Zebra’s Emerging Technology Office, testified before Congress on the opportunity for wearable technologies in enterprise. Second, workplace wearables graced the cover of April’s CIO Magazine: Past and present EWTS thought leaders contributed to the feature “Wearables go to work,” including Accenture’s Brent Blum, Duke Energy’s Aleksandar Vukojevic, Lockheed Martin’s Shelley Peterson, EPRI’s John Simmins, and Christian Pezzin, Chief Digital Officer at OCME. (In addition, AR had its own moment to shine in June, in an Augmented Reality Special Edition of CIOReview.)
In other news, Microsoft’s HoloLens began shipping to developers at the end of March, prompting PTC to announce that its Vuforia augmented reality platform would support the mixed reality headset (as showcased with Caterpillar at Build 2016.) Vuforia introduces to HoloLens the ability to connect AR experiences to specific things in the environment; so instead of sales brochures and equipment manuals, enterprises could use AR visualizations to sell, create, operate and service products in a more powerful and effective way. Trimble also launched its SketchUp Viewer for HoloLens: SketchUp is Trimble’s 3D modeling software, which when combined with HoloLens can be used by AEC professionals to virtually inhabit their designs and thereby improve the design and construction processes.
After working with Duke Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) to enhance its products, Atheer made its AiR (Augmented interactive Reality) Glasses and Suite application available to the energy and utility sector, for use in equipment operation, maintenance and inventory management. Atheer also partnered with Xciel to create the first Intrinsically Safe (IS) smart glasses for workers in the oil and gas industry.
While we were all distracted by the HoloLens and Magic Leap videos clogging up our Twitter feeds, Atheer was clearly hard at work addressing those challenges holding back adoption of smart glasses in the industries that stand to gain the most from hands-free AR technologies.
Patent images filed around February reignited our imaginations re Google Glass Enterprise Edition, but the hardware news didn’t stop there: Epson debuted the Moverio BT-300, the third generation of its smart glasses; and Vuzix heavily promoted its new M300 Smart Glasses throughout the year. First, Vuzix launched a “Future Proof” offer with APX Labs by which enterprise customers could immediately deploy APX’s Skylight platform on the Vuzix M100 and “seamlessly” upgrade to the M300 once it became available. The Rochester company also created the Vuzix Industrial Partner (VIP) program, into which it inducted many big names in the enterprise wearables space over the course of 2016 in preparation for the M300 to begin shipping (which it did over the summer.) The program gave early engineering access to Vuzix’s next-gen glasses to companies like APX Labs, XOEye Technologies, Atheer and Ubimax. And to top off a busy year, congratulations were in order for Vuzix when its M300 Smart Glasses won Compass Intelligence’s Enterprise Wearable Device of the Year award.
Zebra introduced its first Android-based enterprise wearables products, including the WT6000 Industrial Wearable Computer, plus accessories – the RS6000 Wearable Ring Scanner and the HS3100 Rugged Headset – for use in warehouse, manufacturing and retail environments. Recon and APX Labs announced a joint wearable tech solution combining APX’s Skylight software with Recon’s Jet Pro Smart Glasses, which will transform field service, maintenance and manufacturing jobs. And over the summer, Recon launched a partner program to empower developers, software vendors and system integrators to maximize the possibilities for its enterprise smart eyewear solutions; program members include APX Labs, Atheer and Augmate.
And in still other news, Osterhout Design Group (ODG) raised $58 million in funding to accelerate production of its industrial R-7 Smart Glasses; Daqri acquired head-mounted display manufacturer 1066 Labs; major healthcare systems invested $17 million into Augmedix, whose smart glasses platform enables phyicians to collect and access patient data in real-time; and a teaser video from Magic Leap was viewed more than 3.5 million times on YouTube, leaving us with many burning questions. But perhaps most exciting was the revelation that 50% of Pristine’s enterprise customers transitioned from pilot programs to full-scale production deployments of EyeSight, the company’s video collaboration software for smart glasses.
(Learn more about Zebra’s wearable tech solutions, as well as those of PTC, Atheer, Recon, APX Labs, Ubimax and Pristine, at EWTS 2017.)
We hoped that the promising pilots of 2015 would pave the way for full-scale deployments in 2016—well, Pristine, Lee Company, and others made our hopes reality. Now, how will the global enterprise wearables journey evolve over 2017?