December 18, 2017
2017 brought us the public reveal of Google Glass Enterprise Edition and a jumpstart to consumer AR adoption in the form of Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore. Augmented and Virtual Reality made further headway in enterprise, especially for design collaboration, assembly instructions, and training. Worker safety wearables cropped up on job sites while exoskeletons pulled their weight in automotive plants. And smartwatches proved to be a useful tool for employee productivity in several workplaces including restaurants and airports. Here’s a recap of the best use cases and biggest developments from this past year in wearable technology.
A number of enterprises made headlines for their use of wearables in 2017
The most covered use case – and among the most mature use cases out there – was AGCO’s use of Google Glass Enterprise Edition. At the manufacturer’s Jackson, MN factory, employees have been using Glass Enterprise Edition with Proceedix software in assembly and quality assurance for some time now. AGCO was actually one of the companies that worked with Google behind the scenes to improve upon the tech giant’s original smart glasses device.
Another Glass user, GE Aviation, gained attention this year for a successful pilot of Upskill’s Skylight platform. In the pilot, GE mechanics used Glass EE along with a connected torque wrench to increase efficiency in assembly and maintenance. Other aerospace companies have seen positive results with smart glasses, including Boeing (also using Skylight) and Airbus (using a Vuzix smart glasses solution developed with Accenture.)
Automakers’ use of wearable tech, including AR/VR and exoskeletons, was widespread: Ford expanded testing of Microsoft’s HoloLens headset in vehicle design, and is exploring how to use showroom space more effectively and enable customers to shop at home using Augmented and Virtual Reality. Ford is also testing exoskeleton technology to reduce the physical strain of assembly work, as are BMW and Audi. Other automobile companies looking at AR/VR in the design process and dealership experience include Volkswagen, Porsche, and Jaguar Land Rover. PSA Peugeot Citroën is using smart glasses for remote support.
Outside the manufacturing plant, wearables could be found in several airports around the world. Both Cincinnati International Airport and San Diego International Airport tried out Samsung Gear smartwatches—housekeeping staff at CVG used the watches with Hipaax’s task management platform, while SAN employees used the devices to respond to IT issues. SITA Lab with Helsinki Airport tested HoloLens for visualizing the airport’s operational data; and Singapore’s Changi Airport introduced Vuzix smart glasses to its ground crew.
Many enterprises began AR/VR programs for design collaboration and employee training this year. On the design side, medical device company Stryker used HoloLens to design operating rooms; and Lowe’s believes VR can help customers with their home improvement projects (Lowe’s also tested exoskeletons.) And a wide array of companies tested or are using VR to train workers, including Walmart, UPS, Fidelity Investments, Farmers Insurance, and even KFC.
A number of developments in 2017 indicated that enterprises can no longer afford to ignore emerging technologies like wearables and XR. The ecosystem both consolidated and matured, giving us better devices and software; and the largest tech companies entered the game, dropping hints of big plans to come.
Google Glass 2.0 or Glass Enterprise Edition arrived (check out the specs.) Google also introduced an updated Daydream VR headset; a new SDK for its AR-enabled Pixel phones (ARCore,) and several tools for creating AR/VR content (ex. Poly.)
Vuzix was very busy in 2017: The Vuzix M300 Smart Glasses are now supported by PTC’s Vuforia platform and Blackberry’s UEM software. In addition, Vuzix teamed up with Toshiba on a custom, tethered version of the M300. The company launched the developer kit pre-order program for the sleek Vuzix Blade AR glasses; and to cap off the year announced VUZIX Basics, a platform of out-of-the-box, easy to use applications for its growing line of smart glasses.
DAQRI added enterprise AR smart glasses to its product line. The device, which costs $4,995, began shipping in November. DAQRI also worked with Trimble to integrate Trimble’s Mixed Reality application suite with the DAQRI Smart Helmet. Another entrant came from Six15 Technologies—Darwin is the company’s first smart glasses built for enterprise, derived form Six15’s military-grade Tac-Eye line (view the device specs.) Darwin Developer kits began shipping over the summer, with pre-orders for the Mentor variant beginning in January 2018.
ODG unveiled the R-7HL, smart glasses optimized for use in extreme or hazardous environments. The company’s R-8 smart glasses, priced under $1,000, are aimed at early adopters and “light” enterprises, while the R-9 ($1,799) targets commercial enterprises. Meanwhile, rival Epson introduced the Epson Moverio BT-350 to be shared among multiple users and the Moverio Pro BT-2200 to be worn with safety helmets in industrial settings.
Microsoft created the Mixed Reality Partner Program to welcome more systems integrators and digital agencies to develop experiences for the HoloLens, and expanded sales of its Mixed Reality headset – now certified for use as basic protective eyewear – to new European markets. Microsoft also acquired social VR app AltspaceVR in October and Windows 10 now powers VR headsets from Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and Samsung.
In January, RealWear announced its Pioneer Program giving over 50 industrial enterprises early access to the HMT-1, its rugged, head-mounted Android tablet. In March, the company released the device to a limited audience of around 65 companies for pilot programs. RealWear also partnered to integrate Librestream’s Onsight platform and HPE’s MyRoom Visual Remote Guidance (VRG) solution with the HMT-1.
In Virtual Reality, Oculus launched the $900 Oculus for Business bundle, allowing companies to buy headsets in bulk with warranties, a full VR commercial license and dedicated customer support. HTC reduced the price of its Vive headset and admitted it is working with enterprises to extend the device’s use beyond gaming. In an unexpected play, Hewlett Packard debuted the HP Z VR Backpack PC, a VR-capable PC in backpack form for enterprise VR applications.
APX Labs remade itself in 2017, first by changing its name to Upskill to better reflect what its solutions do for enterprises. The company also acquired Pristine and released the next generation of its Skylight platform, which offers an improved user interface, more scalable AR solution, and lower cost of ownership for customers.
Atheer acquired Mixed Reality app maker SpaceView, expanding its solutions to new markets; and released updates to its AiR platform including full encryption, taskflow reporting and Vuzix M300 support. Ubimax, another enterprise wearable software leader, announced Ubimax Frontline—a complete end-to-end solution integrating the company’s xPick, xMake, xInspect and xAssist applications.
Nymi closed a deal to deploy the Nymi Band in an enterprise setting for the first time. Wearable device management company Augmate returned with Augmate Connect, an IoT device management platform using distributed ledger (blockchain) technology. Lenovo showcased the New Glass C200, smart glasses designed for enterprise, at CES 2017; and also formed Lenovo New Vision, a joint venture focusing on AR smart headsets, with Kopin. And Olympus entered the fray with the EyeTrek Insight EL-10 smart glasses designed to attach to existing eyewear.
Given juicy rumors of Alexa-embedded smart glasses from Amazon and an AR headset from Apple as early as 2020 (Apple’s latest startup acquisitions Vrvana and Finisar are AR-related and Apple supplier Quanta just partnered with Lumus;) it’s even clearer going into 2018 than it was a year ago that every company needs a wearable strategy. To put it bluntly: If you’re not piloting and familiarizing yourself with wearables including AR/VR headsets, you’re already behind.
The 5th Annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit 2018, the leading event for enterprise wearables, will take place October 9-10, 2018 at The Fairmont in Austin, TX. 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. For details, early confirmed speakers and preliminary agenda, please stay tuned to the conference website.