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Top 5 "Other" Wearables for Business

Written BY

Emily Friedman

July 6, 2015

Smart glasses, smart watches, and fitness trackers may steal all the headlines but there are many other types of wearable tech for enterprises to explore; indeed, there is much more out there in this budding area of technology than just the Apple Watch, Fitbit, and Google Glass. New wearable devices launch virtually everyday, from smart socks to digital tattoos, on top of the two-dozen smart glasses models “in the works” plus the dozen smart watches already on the market. The choice for enterprises comes down to the use case: Where on the body is information best glanced and/or sensed for a particular task or initiative? Below we outline 5 categories of wearable devices that have already been put to the test in the workplace or else stand to “make waves” in future enterprise applications. For a more complete description or discussion of each category, check out the long version of this post after the “short list.”

Beyond Smart Glasses & Smart Watches: Top 5 Other Wearables for Business, the “Short List”

One. Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are a rather extreme example of smart clothing (below) that offers augmented strength to the wearer. No longer just for the military, these suits promise extraordinary benefits in the healthcare/medical as well as construction, manufacturing, and energy sectors. The proposed benefits of exoskeletons in industry are highly appealing, and include boosting strength without restricting physical coordination, increasing productivity, and preserving workers’ well-being. While the technology is still a bit futuristic, smart clothing and smart gear are already offering safety & performance features on various jobsites.

Two. Smart Clothing

In the enterprise, sensors are being embedded into common workplace objects such as desk chairs and ID badges. It is not a great leap from incorporating sensors into office furniture & supplies to enhancing workplace attire with similar technology. Indeed, companies such as Human Condition and Fhoss are already considering how to incorporate advanced sensors into the clothing, gear, and uniforms workers already wear in a number of industry and business settings.

In construction as well as oil & gas, for example, the traditional hard hat and vest are being equipped with various sensors, monitors and ID readers, as well as GPS tracking and innate charging capabilities. This category of wearables can monitor workers’ well-being as well as their proximity to danger zones, and augment safety precautions in known hazardous areas by collecting data and sending alerts.

Three. Smart Bracelets

Smart bracelets have begun to make their mark in the travel & hospitality industry. These are smart bands worn around the wrist but they are not watches or fitness trackers. A smart bracelet might serve as a means of payment in a theme park; as a ticket for an amusement park ride; or to open a hotel room door, thereby replacing the traditional key card system. Outside of travel & hospitality, security-based smart bracelets could enable secure, keyless access or entry to sensitive areas in certain workplaces (like a lab), in lieu of easily lost or stolen smart cards.

Four. Smart Badges

Smart badges and digital lanyards have the potential to track employees in the workplace with the goal of improving employee productivity and/or the work environment. This type of wearable technology has been put to use at a Rhode Island Bank of America, and also at Tokyo-based engineering & electronics company Hitachi. In those use cases, smart badges were deployed to measure employee movement and interaction. The collected data provided invaluable insight into workplace dynamics, leading to real, productive changes in the office environment.

Five. Designated Wearable Cameras

While smart glasses like Google Glass have image-, audio- and video-recording features, wearable cameras are in a class of their own; and are at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to adopting wearable technology for public safety & security purposes. Robust cameras are currently being mounted on police officers’ tactical eyewear, their ball caps, collars, epaulettes, etc., as well as embedded in firefighters’ helmets. For police & firefighters, wearable cameras in the field enable the sharing of incident data in real time, the creation of an electronic record of events (for use in legal matters), and increased safety for both the officers/fighters and the public they serve.

Outside of emergency services, it is not difficult to imagine other jobs or industries in which a wearable camera might “come in handy.” Wearable cams have been deployed in insurance investigations; and by Arizona-based utilities company Abseilon to document technicians’ work. Really any business requiring easy, real-time documentation of workers’ activity or project progress could benefit from wearable cameras.

The “Long List”

Exoskeletons

Exoskeletons are a rather extreme example of smart clothing (below) that offers augmented strength to the wearer. No longer just for the military, these suits promise extraordinary benefits in the healthcare/medical as well as construction, manufacturing, and energy sectors. For example, exoskeletons could be employed to strengthen safety efforts at a construction site or shipyard by diminishing risk of injury from lifting and other tasks involving human exertion, along with shielding workers from exposure to the elements.

Currently, exoskeletons are being tested in health rehabilitation or physical therapy; and it has been suggested that surgeons could use the suits to improve their dexterity during operations. But an even greater market lies in physical, high-hazard industries, where the suits could enable workers to handle power tools and heavy machinery more adeptly in addition to carrying heavier loads. (Read about South Korean shipyard workers using exoskeletons.)

The proposed benefits of exoskeletons in industry are highly appealing, and include boosting strength without restricting physical coordination, increasing productivity, and preserving workers’ well-being. While the technology is still a bit futuristic, smart clothing and smart gear are already offering safety and performance features on various jobsites.

Smart Clothing

In the enterprise, sensors are being embedded into common workplace objects such as desk chairs and ID badges in an effort to track employees’ vitals, movements, and behaviors; and to analyze trends in the office. It is not a great leap from incorporating sensors into office furniture & supplies to enhancing workplace attire with similar technology. Indeed, companies are already considering how to incorporate advanced sensors into the clothing, gear, and uniforms workers already wear in a number of industry and business settings.

In construction, for example, the traditional hard hat and vest are being equipped with various sensors, monitors and ID readers, as well as GPS tracking and innate charging capabilities. NYC-based Human Condition has been working on the next generation of safety clothing – “wearable safety tech” – for the construction industry; with the long-term vision of a network of biometric and environmental sensors along with GPS, RFID, BLE, etc., all built into various types of personal protective equipment to provide maximum safety and real-time data to construction workers. Fhoss’ powered light safety wear is another example of smart clothing designed to increase the safety of workers in a variety of industry sectors.

Smart clothing and smart gear have great potential to assess industrial jobsite safety—for example, a pulse oximeter fitted to an oil rig worker’s hard hat could detect the onset of carbon monoxide poisoning, while a different sensor could track radiation exposure. This category of wearables can monitor workers’ well-being as well as their proximity to danger zones, and augment safety precautions in known hazardous areas by collecting data and sending alerts. And it’s not just in big industry that wearable technology in the form of smart clothing may go mainstream; wearable tech could very well become part of the businessman’s uniform, as well.

Smart Bracelets

Smart bracelets have begun to make their mark in the travel & hospitality industry. These are smart bands worn around the wrist but they are not watches or fitness trackers; rather, smart bracelets typically have more limited or specific functionality than a smart watch and they often don’t include biometric sensors. A smart bracelet might serve as a means of payment in a theme park; as a ticket for an amusement park ride; or to open a hotel room door, thereby replacing the traditional key card system. Outside of travel & hospitality, security-based smart bracelets could enable secure, keyless access or entry to sensitive areas in certain workplaces (like a lab), in lieu of easily lost or stolen smart cards.

Perhaps the most well-known example of a smart bracelet is Disney’s MagicBand. Visitors at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando can use the “magical wristband” in place of an admission ticket, as a Fast Pass for rides, or like a credit card to purchase food and souvenirs. Disney is even using the aggregate data from the smart bands to create a better, more magical guest experience than employees alone could ever provide.

But it’s not all fun and rides—While customers are wearing nifty smart bracelets at theme parks and hotels; there is also potential for smart bands to be designed with authentication and identity management purposes in mind for the business world.

Smart Badges

Smart badges and digital lanyards have the potential to track employees in the workplace with the goal of improving employee productivity and/or the work environment. This type of wearable technology has been put to use at a Rhode Island Bank of America, and also at Tokyo-based engineering & electronics company Hitachi.

In 2009, employees at one of Bank of America’s call centers were given smart badges developed by Sociometric Solutions. The goal of the 6-week wearable tech pilot program was to figure out how coworkers interact with one another in the office. To that end, various sensors built into the badges recorded employees’ movements as well as who they talked to, even the tone of their voice. The collected data ultimately provided unique insight into how the call center operated: It turned out that employees who were more social were also more productive; so BoA changed the office layout of that particular call center to encourage workers to engage with one another.

In a similar initiative, Hitachi developed its own wearable device – the Hitachi Business Microscope – to measure and manage employee interaction. The HBM is a gadget worn on a lanyard around the neck, similar to a company ID badge; packed with sensors monitoring such things as how the wearer moves and communicates as well as environmental factors like light and temp, the smart badge could essentially track where employees traveled in an office, recognize to whom they were speaking, and measure how well they spoke (ex. how energetically). By plotting employee networks, Hitachi hoped to better understand how workers interact and collaborate with one another. (Read more about the BoA and Hitachi use cases.)

Such employee-facing applications of smart badges and digital lanyards involve simply tracking workers. No corporate data has to be accessible via the devices, and yet the results can lead to real, productive changes in the workplace environment.

Designated Wearable Cameras

While smart glasses like Google Glass have image-, audio- and video-recording features, wearable cameras are in a class of their own, and are at the forefront of the discussion when it comes to adopting wearable technology for public safety & security purposes. Just as environmental and biometric sensors are currently being built into belts, vests and other police & firefighting gear; robust cameras are being mounted on police officers’ tactical eyewear, their ball caps, collars, epaulettes, etc., as well as embedded in firefighters’ helmets.

There are clear advantages to sharing incident data in real time via wearable cameras in the field, but it’s not just about “see what I see.” Cameras mounted onto or built into all kinds of police & firefighting gear create an electronic record of events, which can provide indisputable proof of procedures followed (or not followed) by a department or unit. Such documentation can, of course, protect firefighters and police officers from legal matters; and it might also lead to increased safety for both emergency service providers and the public they serve. For example, firefighters could exploit the video artifacts made by these devices to review, assess, critique, and ultimately improve their skills and performance. In addition, cameras in the field could promote proper conduct and following of protocol, potentially leading to reductions in use-of-force and other complaints against police officers.

Outside of firefighting and police work, it is not difficult to imagine other jobs or industries in which a wearable camera might “come in handy.” Wearable cams have been deployed in insurance investigations; and by Arizona-based utilities company Abseilon, whose technicians employed the technology (made by Vidcie) to document their work and stream birds-eye-view video to engineers, lawyers, and other project stakeholders. You can see how any business requiring easy, real-time documentation of workers’ activity or stages of progress on a project could benefit from trialing wearable cameras. (Read more about Abseilon here.)

Further Reading
Solving the Skills Crisis with Augmented Reality
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