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Journey through the Googling Glass

Dec. 16, 2013
Every technologist and his brother is speculating about smart spectacles. Is this a clear-eyed vision for logistics professionals?

Technology used to change so fast that system integrators couldn’t keep up with it. But now technology writers can’t even finish blogging about something brand new before it’s time for an update. Just a couple months ago I told you about my conversation with Dan Napoli, senior vice president of R&D for Knighted, a logistics software company that was acquired last year by Intelligrated. He said that standards will be needed to come up with a rapid, agile response to customers placing orders for something they see through their Google Glasses. Well, in the last couple weeks pundits have been talking about “Smart Glasses” finding their ways to the eyes and noses of the people filling those orders.

Not long after our blog Gartner announced that by 2017, Smartglasses could save the field service industry $1 billion a year. Angela McIntyre, research director at Gartner said that the greatest savings in field service will come from diagnosing and fixing problems more quickly and without needing to bring additional experts to remote sites. Then a company called Scandit sent out a press release announcing that this developer of software-based enterprise barcode scanning and data capture technology will enhance its software to support glass-based barcode scanning for “hands free” inventory management.

Scandit supports its strategic direction through the Google Glass with Gartner’s prediction that in five years, 10% of organizations with field service workers will have taken up the technology. 

“Two of our fastest growing enterprise sectors are manufacturing and logistics,” said Scandit CEO Samuel Mueller. “Both of these are heavily dependent on barcode scanning and we are excited by Gartner’s predictions, which match our own expectations and will inform the way that our technology is developed.”

Most recently I talked to George Bishop, a senior director leading the workforce optimization practice at West Monroe Partners, technology consultants, and guess what he’s exploring? Smart Glasses for warehouse workers.

We all know how conservative companies can be when it comes to investing in new technologies for their warehouses. Heck, radio frequency based scanning and voice recognition technology seem to be just gaining some traction there and now we have technology developers talking about going to hands-free scanning with a mere flash of your eyes. Is this smart?

“There has to be a price point that makes it competitive with those technologies,” Bishop says. “Where it will show its strength is in the people. You’ll have a more productive employee. One of the big issues with voice is that employees are picking blindly without knowing what’s coming up. With the glasses you’ll be able to supply a virtual pick list so they can see what’s coming up. During the progression of an assignment you can tell them they’ve completed 50% of the assignment but they also took 50% of the allocated supply. They can also see that they’ve performed at x% efficiency.”

Playing devil’s advocate, I asked about possible challenges, like supplying so much data that it becomes a distraction to operators, which could be a problem for pickers on lift trucks, for example. And of course these people tend to be rough on equipment so these glasses will have to be industrially hardened—which could up their price tag.

“The employer will be able to supply information based on where an employee is in their learning curve,” Bishop said. “Different people need different sets of information to perform. People doing loading and receiving don’t do as much traveling so there would be fewer issues with driving. They  require a lot more information to make sure they’re receiving the right product and loading the right truck. Somebody receiving a case might have to ask for more information on the product and they can go to a picture of the product using these glasses.”

And the cost?

“Its use in the consumer market will make the price point drop and make it more interesting,” Bishop concludes. “But I think we’ll see some really cool and useful applications for industry. You can bring employees up to speed faster, especially where you have large employee turnover such as in the food and beverage industry.”

You know this is serious when a company like SAP is talking about it. See our video gallery on these and other Smart Glass breakthroughs—then e-mail me at [email protected] if you’re ready to see your world through Google colored glasses.