Why Covid-19 will be an eye-opener for smart glasses

Published on April 14, 2020

Here's how to ensure business continuity during Covid-19. Keep production assets running with minimum manpower on site.

The Covid-19 pandemic forces governments all over the world to impose severe restrictions on people gathering and traveling. While these actions are the only solution to control the spread of the virus on the short term, they also harm business continuity of the industry. The challenges and dangers this pandemic is currently posing, will also be the driving forces for a faster adoption of digitization and smart eyewear by industry. This is why.

The challenge of Covid-19 for operational business continuity

The global economy is facing unprecedented challenges because of the Coronavirus pandemic. The spread of such virus is primarily driven by the number of human contacts and the probability of contracting the virus through a contact. Hence governments all over the world impose severe restrictions on traveling and gatherings. These extreme measures almost force the economy to a standstill.

Amidst this turmoil, enterprises try to keep their business going while safeguarding the health of their employees and the broader community. It goes without saying that even in this extremely difficult situation, it’s vital to keep production running in agriculture, food, life science, utility and many other strategic industries.

The power of a digital empowerment in quarantine areas.

How do we keep production assets running with minimum manpower on site? Operators, technicians and inspectors most likely need to step in for colleagues that are sick or couldn’t make it to work. Both creativity and job flexibility will be required to assure business continuity. But how do we guarantee that things are still done right first time and in a safe way by all these less experienced stand-ins? Plant organizations that invested in a digital instruction and inspection execution platform, will now leverage the investment. 

Imagine that you have been operating a filling line for the past few years. Because of exceptional workforce absence, you are requested to help with a cleaning and packaging changeover on a blister machine for the first time today. You could start by searching and reading the appropriate Standard Operating Procedure. It will take quite some time to find the right document and understand it.

Now picture a tablet on the shop floor or at the blister line. You login and get a digital workflow with step-by-step instructions, guiding you through the cleaning and changeover tasks. On some workflow tasks, you can find a short video demonstrating what and how you should do it right. On other tasks, you are getting questions to verify you’re on the right track. If your answers deviate, extra verifications and actions are put on your workflow path. At each task you can log comments, take pictures or videos and acknowledge that the task execution went well or that you ran into issues. Most importantly you can directly initiate actions for colleagues or send a request to help you out. Your supervisor, forced to work from home, can monitor online and in real time your cleaning and changeover process and progress as all instruction and inspection execution details are immediately logged on the company’s server. 

No doubt that a digital platform, such as Proceedix, enabling step-by-step execution of instructions with a mobile phone or tablet, will empower the stand-in deskless workers in these challenging situations. It would be even better if the person at work, could receive the information directly on the tiny display of a pair of smart glasses, as it would leave the hands free to do the job. Yet this is not why Covid-19 will be pivotal for smart glasses in enterprise.

The hinge moment for smart glasses in enterprise.

Despite a guidance with digital step-by-step instructions, unexpected problems will occur: assets break, filters jam, pipes can start leaking etc. At that time, the less experienced stand-in needs the help of an experienced colleague or possibly of an internal or external expert. Unfortunately, these people might not be present on site, neither be able to travel to the site. This is the situation where smart glasses are about to make the difference between a production stop or a problem fix and production continuation.

Picture that the stand-in or any deskless worker facing the issue puts on a pair of smart glasses. The camera in the smart glasses, can see what the operator or field technician sees. A video streaming/remote assistance software sends the images via wifi or 3G/4G to the cloud. An experienced colleague can log on to the video platform from his home or from another plant and see what the deskless worker sees. 

Via the speakers and microphones embedded in the smart glasses a conversation between both can be facilitated. The remote expert can even freeze images on his PC, make annotations to provide indications and send them back to the head-mounted-display (HMD) device. Smart glasses allow for a hands-free video conference and provide the “on-site-perspective or virtual presence” to the remote expert

With the live instructions and indications of the remote expert, the probability that the operator on site will fix the issue, dramatically increases.

The right smart glasses for remote assistance.

What kind of smart glasses do you need to facilitate remote assistance is the question to be answered. The pragmatic answer is simple, straightforward and easy to find by drawing the analogy between a pair or smart glasses for remote assistance and a fire extinguisher. Your only concern is that the fire extinguisher is the right type and size to do the job effectively.

These are the four features that make the difference for smart glasses to effectively facilitate a remote assistance session:

  1. The wearer still needs to do the job and should therefor keep the eyes on the work at hand. The smart glasses must leave the operators' view unobstructed by positioning the display discretely in a corner of the wearer’s field of view. Sophisticated optical engine modules covering the eyes to enable a digital overlay (augmented reality) do not add value for remote assistance. They can only hinder the view of the wearer.
  2. The camera in the glasses are “the eyes on the ground” for the remote expert. The camera(s) are making the difference for remote assistance. Ideally the camera must be positioned above the nose bridge to capture the natural perspective of the wearer.
  3. Video streaming solutions eat battery power. Glasses for remote assistance should have substantial battery power either by a hot-swap battery or by a cable-connected pocket unit.
  4. The smart glasses must be comfortable to wear for the operator at work. Either comfortable lightweight glasses or hard hat mounted solutions for those that need a helmet, will do the job. 

While powerful augmented or mixed reality goggles like the Hololens 2 or the Magic Leap 1 are perfect for (AR/MR) training, they are not the right cast for remote assistance. They are stuffed with high-tech features that are just an overkill to facilitate remote assistance video conferencing. Moreover, all of the true “AR” power inside these devices, is a burden in terms of the weight on your head or on your nose for this straightforward video streaming use case.

This is why assisted reality smart glasses like Google Glass EE2, Vuzix M400, Realwear HMT-1 and the Iristick Z1 have the best fit for remote assistance purposes. The EE2, M400 and HMT-1 are stand-alone devices while the Iristick is powered by a cable connected pocket unit with a standard Android or iOS phone.

Leveraging the connectivity, processing power and battery of a smart phone is particularly “smart” for the remote assistance use case. For the same reason, the software vendor AMA also allows to run its Xperteye streaming platform on a smart phone that connects by a cable with the above assisted reality glasses : 

The Google Glass are a lightweight and slim pair of glasses. The Vuzix M400 has a flexible configuration and various accessories. The Realwear HMT-1 is a rugged device controlled by voice commands. Both the Vuzix M400 and Realwear HMT-1 can be mounted on a hard hat. The Iristick Z1 has two more unique selling propositions for remote assistance. Firstly, it has a central camera above the nose bridge to capture the wearers natural perspective.

Secondly it is the only pair of glasses that has a bionic eye consisting of a liquid zoom lens, a laser pointer and flash LED light. These cameras allow to stream both the wearer’s field of view and a zoomed in detail.