Wearable technology in the form of smartphones, watches, glasses, tiny chips or sensors embedded in clothing are the new trends at the bleeding edge of technology. It has fired up creativity and soared hopes with both ambitious start-ups as well as tech giants like Samsung and Google jumping onto the wearable-tech bandwagon. These devices are designed to merge relevant, real-time information seamlessly into our lives without ever having to fumble in our pockets or navigate screen icons to get work done. Most of the newly launched and advertised wearable tech devices are consumer-centric and primarily cater to entertainment and fitness applications. They also have video and audio capabilities and internet connectivity, enabling video to be streamed beyond devices. All of this adds to the way in which we perceive technology, communicate and function using it.
As we enter the era of smart, wearable technology, more and more of its industrial uses are being explored. A factory or a shop floor is a place where real time data can make a world of difference. A hands-free device can alert a worker to fault on a production line. ‘Smart’ clothing can warn the wearer about the presence of toxic gases in air. Technology can not only increase productivity and improve quality, but also ensure safety and security to workers.
Let’s see how some of the latest wearable computing devices can change the face of the manufacturing industry.
Motorola Solutions HC1 is a headset computer, which has user manuals, warnings or the location of a broken sensor appear right in the field of the user’s vision. The user can find relevant information without having to use his hands on a computer a portable device or even speak to a co-worker. Startup XOEye Technologies is building cameras into safety glasses. It can stream live video for 45 minutes before it requires another charge. It can also be programmed to take pictures every 30 seconds, thus stretching the battery for a much longer duration. This can help a worker in getting real time instructions from his manager as he repairs a faulty machine. The video and pictures are of superior quality and the users can listen and talk to whoever is watching the video. Conversely an expert can wear the glasses and perform a walk-through for the user.
Vuzix ‘s M100 smartglass helps in warehouse and inventory management. It provides real time data on the availability of parts in warehouses, monitors accuracy of pickups and alerts the user if he has picked the wrong lot. It is synchronized with the centralized inventory database.
Sensors and sensory devices:
PrimeSense 3D sensing technology helps to identify people based on their body proportions, movements and gestures. It works in tandem with other digital devices to observe a picture in 3D. There are sensors which monitor a users’ productivity and determine whether they require rest or not. An example is Vancives Metria Patch. This can lead to lower injury rates and stress levels in manufacturing processes.
‘Smart’ clothing revolutionizes the way we see a factory overall. Clothing from Climware can heat or cool the user’s body depending on the external temperatures. Users can customize the temperature and set it to their preference as well. Fraunhofer Rearch Institution for Modular Solid State Technologies (EMFT) in Germany has developed a glove that turns blue on detecting toxic substances. Efforts are on to incorporate the same features in textiles or clothing as well.
Gesture recognition and virtual factories
This technology is in its nascent stages and hasn’t yet directly impacted manufacturing. But BMW has already presented at a trade fair, what has been described as the factory of the future – a virtual factory which has non-contact, gesture recognition system where a quality assurance worker can document and analyze flaws in a component simply by ‘pointing’ to it. Earlier this year Fujitsu Laborataories announced it has developed a glove, which is equipped with a Near Field Communications tag reader which features gesture based input for maintenance and other on-site operations. Here users can receive work instructions and other information, just by taking the natural action of touching an object. The company plans to bring this to market in 2015.
There are portable and wearable computer gadgets like Motorola’s RS419 ring-style scanner that enables hands free checking of paper work orders and bar code scanning. This is mostly used in warehouse and inventory management. There are wearable terminals as well which help in hands free mobile computing.
The popularity of wearable technology can be attributed to several factors. The availability of Bluetooth and mobile technologies, the low-cost and low-power sensory requirements of wearable technology coupled with improved user interface platforms has made it increasingly easy to use it to simplify the manufacturing processes. Wearable tech helps to monitor and automate a range of functions and processes in a factory. As the popularity of these devices increases, prices will come down and inevitably this will lead to wider acceptance and application in the industry.
The post was written by Krysten Jetson – a regular contributor Dazeinfo who has specialization in the wearable technology and construction industry. She loves sharing her expertise on various aspects of interested industries, especially safety, like fall protection, workers safety etc. She has years of professional experience including working with clients to build their business and brands through internet marketing strategies.