Over the past 5+ years of working with the largest companies in the world in unlocking the power of wearables for their business, Upskill (formerly APX Labs) has gathered a tremendous amount of real life insight on marrying the business need with the right set of technical capabilities. Since our customers look at wearable technology as a tool to solve real business problems, whether it’s increasing productivity, efficiency, safety, and/or quality, we must never lose sight of technology playing a supporting role, rather than the lead, in achieving this goal. We work very hard to be an honest agent during customer workshops in developing business cases around the current and near-future capabilities of wearable technology to generate positive business impact that is scalable today. These workshops are excellent learning opportunities for both Upskill and our customers.
Barcode Scanning with Smart Glasses
One question we get asked constantly is whether we support hands-free barcode scanning on smart glasses. The answer is yes, but with caveats. Technically, scanning 1D and 2D barcodes using the on-board camera of the smart glasses is possible, but the user experience of doing this repeatedly, such as in warehousing/logistics/material handling scenarios, is significantly compromised. This is further worsened when less than ideal environmental variables such as reduced ambient light level are present.
As with any new technology, smart glasses challenge the status quo of enterprise mobility – smartphones, tablets, and broadly, laptops. By mounting the camera on the user’s head, two significant ergonomic problems have emerged relative to handheld devices (even code scanners running on smartphones) – the distance from the scanner lens to the targeted code has been increased and fixed, and the ability for the user to use his/her arm to reach the barcode (a degree of freedom) has been removed. Both issues impact the accuracy and the time needed for every barcode scan.
Pragmatically speaking, a smart glasses user attempting to scan barcodes must bring the code within a very close proximity to the user’s head, nominally within an arm’s length. The most common barcode in material handling, the 1-dimension UPC, requires the user to get even closer to process the barcode compared to QR codes. Users are now either forced to position their head to scan the barcode on a heavy box on the floor (which can’t be practically lifted), or use the tried-and-true handheld barcode scanning method with their arms to reach. The latter is obviously more efficient.
Upskill strongly believes that if the primary task for the smart glasses user is barcode scanning, it is better to complement the glasses with a Bluetooth-enabled handheld/wearable scanner. In this scenario, smart glasses serve as a better user interface than the tiny screen on the handheld scanners today, delivering mission critical information heads up and hands free. Further, this implementation enables a better informed workforce with the additional context delivered to the user, such as the next pick location, detailed item description, and packing instructions. This is where the true value of smart glasses is unlocked.
True Value of Smart Glasses in Material Handling
Material handling is clearly the most prolific task in logistics, although it certainly appears in every major industry – manufacturers of all kinds of goods warehouse lots of parts, for example. The logistics industry is traditionally a volume-driven business with low margins with variables such as fuel costs negatively affecting the bottom line. In this environment, it’ll be hard for logistics companies to achieve the return on investment (ROI) by making additional investments on smart glasses while retaining their handheld scanner infrastructure, which as discussed earlier is a requirement for success. The key business benefit isn’t to save time on every scan, but to ensure that the work product is more accurate.
One of the fundamental benefits of smart glasses in the enterprise is attained when anomalies happen. By enabling the visualization and hands-free capture and sharing of visual data (gleaned from the camera), issues can be properly escalated and resolved faster than what the current technology allows, often in real time with see-what-I-see video conferencing or photo sharing to a remotely located supervisor. Further, smart glasses can also add efficiency in non-picking operations by better informing the workforce to ensure quality of work and reducing the productivity gap between the full time and seasonal (and often unskilled/inexperienced) workforce.
Nobody likes to get a mis-delivered or an improperly packed order. The impact of this is universal, from a consumer saying “hey! That’s not what I ordered!” to a manufacturing line stopping because of a mis-picked/packed/delivered part from its warehouse. By getting things done right the first time and every time with smart glasses, the ripple effect of an error is eliminated altogether. This is the true ROI that smart glasses can generate in material handling, rather than an outright replacement of the handheld barcode scanner, which is here to stay.
New Demo at CES 2016
At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we continue to expand our partnership with Sony and demonstrate our latest Skylight demo with the Sony SmartEyeglass around a material handling scenario. The demo consists of an integration with a wearable barcode scanner in a warehouse with the SmartEyeglass serving as the heads up display of critical information. The SmartEyeglass is well suited for such tasks, given its bright display and a simple, power efficient architecture with a camera to capture and share anomalies as they arise.
Upskill and Sony have big plans for delivering maximum business value in material handling use cases, with much more to come soon. To learn more and get started, please visit upskill.io/landing/upskill-and-sony.