Industrial Smart Glasses: What are they and how do they work?
The evolution of industrial smart glasses
We first started hearing about smart glasses around 2013, when Google launched their first version of AR-assisted smart glasses, Google Glass. It seemed like AR technology had found the perfect hardware to deliver all manner of experiences to users. In the following years, a slew of other products entered the market, including heavy hitters such as Microsoft and Amazon. Innovations kept coming but manufacturers were still searching for the killer app that would take the technology mainstream. Then, in 2017, Google relaunched Google Glass, specifically targeting the enterprise market, and was soon followed by other manufacturers who hoped to make inroads into this industrial space. AR-assisted wearables fit perfectly into Industry 4.0 methodologies and their impact soon became apparent in a range of industries, from Healthcare to Logistics.
The technology of smart glasses has evolved a lot since their first iterations over 10 years ago. We will see what standard models available on the market now can offer in terms of features. We will also outline some of the key differences between standard consumer wearables and industrial smart glasses. As well as explain how this technology differs from VR.
How does smart glass technology work?
Smart glasses combine Augmented Reality technology into a wearable device that allows hands-free access to the internet. By allowing the user to access the internet using voice control, for example, they can view and listen to up-to-date information on the spot without interrupting their work.
Superimposing information onto a field of vision is one of the key features of AR-assisted smart glasses and this is achieved through an optical head-mounted display (OHMD) or embedded wireless glasses with transparent heads-up display (HUD), see-through displays, or augmented reality (AR) overlay.
Devices also include a microphone so that users can interact with the glasses through voice command, and haptic feedback for manual operation (usually swiping the side of the glasses). An audio output function allows access to audio content, and a rechargeable battery and a processor with memory to access the internet also come as standard.
AR or VR – What’s the difference?
The key difference between VR viewers and smart glasses is that smart glasses work with the existing environment, attempting to add information to help the user navigate it, or otherwise assisting them in what they are doing, much like smartphones. Virtual Reality viewer is more of an immersive experience that seeks to take the user to a different space, either for entertainment or convenience.
For example, VR headsets are used to provide flight simulation experiences for pilots or to give homebuyers a tour of a house that has not yet been constructed. Smart glasses using AR technology have been designed to be small and lightweight so that the user can wear them to perform their usual daily tasks, whereas VR headsets are generally quite bulky and aren’t designed to be worn for long periods.
How are industrial smart glasses different from consumer versions?
As we have noted, smart glasses first came to the market as a consumer product but they never really captured the popular imagination. The aim of the consumer market is to offer a more convenient way of accessing the internet, focusing on tasks such as shopping, navigating space, and making payments. Design is a key consideration for consumer smart glasses and some of the earlier, more clunky versions may be a key reason why their adoption never really caught on.
Industrial smart glasses don’t have the same fashion considerations, but the hardware needs to be suited to more punishing environments – this means many devices may need to be dustproof and waterproof, have more heavy-duty frames, or be compatible with hard hats.
Safety is also a key consideration for glasses aimed at the industrial market as users may be wearing them while operating heavy machinery, or performing some other dangerous task. As such, visual interruption needs to be minimum, ensuring that information appears in a way that helps but doesn’t hinder the user.
What are some of the main applications of wearable technologies in Industry 4.0?
Industry 4.0 combines new technologies such as AR and the Internet of Things to improve manufacturing processes. Smart glasses can be integrated with AR technologies to assist industrial processes and offer significant benefits such as increased operational productivity and efficiency and improved quality and accountability.
Remote assistance will be made possible with smart glasses that are integrated with remote support platforms. Remote maintenance is faster and more cost-effective as checklists can be easily accessed using smart glasses and tasks can be performed hands-free. This has the added benefit of improving the safety and standards of these processes.
In addition, the technology can be used for training purposes; by using smart glasses to watch videos of the equipment maintenance process in real-time or recording their work for future training purposes.
Smart glasses can also be used for inspections and audits. The inspector can convert visual data into documents, take photos and videos, and connect with other experts in real-time all using only voice commands. The expert can then analyze the data and perform quality control using AR-provided digital graphics and visuals. All of which helps to shorten the overall audit periods. It can also be ensured that information is properly processed and recorded for future reference.
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What is the future of industrial smart glasses?
The future of AR and smart glasses technology looks set to bring even more benefits to the industrial sector. With improved cameras and hand-eye tracking, users will be able to perform tasks more accurately and improve quality. More durable and more lightweight hardware means the technology can be used in a wider range of settings, and advances in processing power mean energy savings that enable hands-free operation for longer periods – meaning more productivity.
In conclusion, the future looks bright for smart glasses and it is likely their use will spread even more widely through the industrial sector as more applications are added. In order to stay ahead of the competition, companies would be wise to stay ahead of trends and look at ways to introduce or further integrate this technology into their processes.