January 13, 2016
While the field service, logistics, and healthcare industries receive a lot of the attention when it comes to wearable technology in the enterprise; the world’s major automotive companies are doing their part to show just how disruptive this new wave of hands-free mobile technology stands to be.
One could even argue that the automotive industry is actually the one industry currently exemplifying the full transformative potential of wearables, as research projects and pilot programs by auto companies encompass nearly every aspect of the industry—from the design process to the manufacturing assembly line, car sales, and even the customer driving experience.
In this post, we outline some current and proposed use cases of wearable tech in the automotive industry, a sector that has been exploring all three of the application areas of wearables in the workplace: behind-the-scenes, employee-facing, and consumer-facing.
BEHIND-THE-SCENES / OPERATIONS: Vehicle Design, the Manufacturing Assembly Line, and Quality Assurance
In November 2015, following a successful 3-month pilot project, VW began rolling out smart glasses as standard equipment in the order picking process at its Wolfsburg plant in Northern Germany. For now, around 30 employees belonging to various areas of the warehouse, including windshields and driveshafts, are utilizing the technology on a voluntary basis. Feedback from these workers will enable the German car manufacturer to expand the use of the glasses to other departments and maybe even additional facilities in the future.
Those VW employees donning the smart glasses are able to view the information required to carry out day-to-day work tasks right in their field of vision, including parts numbers and locations. Touch and voice controls allow for efficient, hands-free operation of the technology while the camera embedded in the glasses serves as a barcode reader, ensuring that the correct parts are selected from around the plant.
Back in November 2014, it was reported that the American automotive giant was exploring the use of Virtual Reality in the vehicle design process—specifically, the use of VR headsets by its engineers to evaluate potential vehicle designs in a virtual environment.
The idea was this: An Oculus Rift headset plus several motion capture cameras would enable engineers at Ford’s Detroit offices to explore the designs of new vehicles and even move/walk around virtual models of proposed cars. In this way, a group of geographically dispersed designers would be able to virtually meet and inspect new designs together.
Since then, Ford has approached wearable technology from another angle, having recently opened a new “Automotive Wearables Experience Lab” in Dearborn, MI (January 2016). (See below)
Other auto companies either utilizing or experimenting with wearable technology “behind the scenes” include:
- Daimler has been using smart glasses by Vuzix along with quality assurance software by Ubimax for quality control inspections on its assembly lines.
- General Motors (GM) has been testing Google Glass on the factory floor at its Orion Assembly and Warren Technical Center in Detroit—to enhance worker and therefore facility productivity and efficiency; improve tasks like quality inspection and the repair process; and for employee training purposes (Source: Tractica) An August 2014 article mentioned that GM also hoped the use of wearable technologies like Google Glass would attract a younger workforce to its factories
- Back in March 2015 it was reported that Jaguar Land Rover was testing augmented reality technology with 3D-modeling in the design of car components and accessories (similar to Ford)
- BMW carried out a successful Google Glass pilot program at its Spartanburg, SC plant intended to assess the use of smart glass technology for quality assurance in pre-series vehicle inspections (Source: Tractica)
EMPLOYEE- AND CONSUMER-FACING: Worker Safety and the Automotive Retail Process
In addition to exploring the productivity benefits of smart glasses, the German luxury automaker has supposedly tried out a different and rather unusual wearable device known as the Chairless Chair among its factory workers. Created by Swiss startup Noonee, the Chairless Chair is a wearable lower-body exoskeleton designed to provide seated support as well as comfort and flexibility for individuals working on manufacturing lines. This employee-facing wearable application is intended to diminish the physical stress typically associated with the standing work in an automotive manufacturing plant.
Other German car manufacturers, including Audi and Daimler, have also been testing the Chairless Chair device.
The Swedish automotive company is the first car brand to collaborate with the Microsoft HoloLens team, having showcased an exciting demo of a new way consumers might buy cars like the Volvo S90 using Microsoft’s mixed reality headset. In the car showroom experience of the future, augmented reality will enable Volvo shoppers to gain insight into the design process behind as well as the safety features of new vehicles. Volvo is also toying with the idea of getting customer feedback on never-before-seen vehicles, educating customers about the value of new and unique safety features, and letting them try out colors and trim levels via the HoloLens.
Other car brands interested in leveraging wearable technology to sell its cars include:
- Back in January 2015, Audi announced plans to allow its customers to virtually toy with car customizations using virtual reality technology in its showrooms
- AMARI Supercars, a global supplier of prestige and high-performance supercars, has partnered with UK startup GoInStore to enable its clients and potential buyers to check out the company’s selection of luxury cars online via smart glasses worn by its Preston showroom staff.
CONSUMER-FACING: The Customer Driving Experience
As mentioned above, the American automaker very recently opened a wearables research lab at its Dearborn, MI research center, where Ford researchers are exploring how wearable devices like smartwatches might be incorporated into the driving experience to make driving both safer and easier. Possibilities include linking the health data captured by wearables to a car’s driver assist software, as well as sending accident, roadwork and other traffic-related alerts to drivers’ smartwatches and enabling voice commands for the MyFord Mobile smartwatch app.
Imagine a day when your smartwatch indicates to your car that you are stressed or did not sleep well the night before. As a result, lane assist kicks in; adaptive cruise control and your vehicle’s blind spot information system reacts to allow for more room between you and other cars on the road. Would you feel safer?
Other car brands experimenting with customer-facing applications for wearable tech include:
- At CES 2016, Volvo introduced a wearable voice control system that would enable vehicle owners to control their car’s functions using the Microsoft Band 2
- A number of auto companies either planned or created Glassware applications to make drivers’ lives easier following the release of the original Google Glass, including Mercedes-Benz, Tesla and Hyundai. Mercedes also extended its Digital DriveStyle app to the Pebble Steel Smartwatch
- In January 2015, Toyota teamed up with Oculus to create a kind of software tutorial for the Oculus Rift device geared towards new and inexperienced drivers. The idea was to utilize virtual reality to teach proper driving etiquette. The Rift was attached to a stationary car that translated users’ in-vehicle movements to the virtual world within the device
Clearly, the ways in which we manufacture, buy and drive cars are changing. The wearable automotive revolution is underway!