Cargo couture: selecting tailored, wearable tech for your collection

Specs for tailored virtual and augmented reality experiences

Beyond advances in ergonomic and functional capabilities, wearable tech pieces such as headsets and smart glasses represent the next leap in developing tech particularly due to the fact that they offer so many customizable and varied uses. These pieces really are where the tailored facet of wearable tech holds immense potential to be tailored for the specific needs of the user through virtual and augmented reality.

Smart glasses integrate analog work with digital technology through augmented reality and connect to companies’ individual cloud-based platforms via Wifi and Bluetooth, to enable the user direct and instant access to a server of information. Headsets, meanwhile, take the user into a virtual reality space and increasingly allow users to interact with objects within that space. With these functions companies are leveraging the products for a variety of operations. Most recently, headsets are being leveraged for employee training, while smart glasses can be found supporting vision-picking ops in warehouses.

UPS uses headsets, which combine goggles and earpieces, to take employees into a virtual modality for driver safety training. UPS first began developing its virtual reality program using the headsets in 2017. In the driver safety training modality, employees are required to “drive” a package delivery in the realistic virtual space to complete safety training. In the space, as in real on-road training, employees can identify hazards they may see to show they are aware of their surroundings. After the employees identify safety requirements correctly, the system processes this as points in the training.

However, in the early stages of development, UPS realized that it had to adapt the devices to specifically suit the training. While the headsets could process hand motions like pointing and gesturing, it is important for employees to keep their hands on the wheel.

“So we modified the technology for our usage and added voice activation to the headset. So if a driver’s driving, they can speak verbal instructions and say, ‘I see the speed limit. I see the stop sign. I see another car entering the intersection,’” Hensley explained. “In addition to scoring points on the training, this prepares drivers for occasional drives with supervisors on the road. So they’re actually practicing the exact same way that the on-road supervisors want them to act in reality.”

In general, Hensley said, the program allows UPS to utilize its workforce more efficiently and ensure safety in its operations. But it is difficult to determine metrics regarding how it improves processes as this would be measuring avoidance numbers, or the number of accidents avoided due to the trainings. UPS said however that it is receiving good feedback from team members and employees that used the program.

“Even if you can’t measure an avoidance cost, the team members say they feel better prepared for the job. And if we avoided even one accident or someone being hurt, that’s huge,” Hensley said. Additionally, team members also find the training fun and gamifies the process, which while intangible, is still a benefit to employee satisfaction at UPS.

The virtual reality training is currently being used at all nine of UPS’ Integrated training facilities in the United States but the company is also being adapted for use globally. In the global rollout of the program the training modality will be customized for the different rules and languages of countries in which it will be used. UPS did not share a specific timeline for the rollout, but the project demonstrates the massive potential for broad yet specific application of the technology.

Following on the heels of headsets, smart glasses are bridging the gap between virtual space and physical reality.

DHL was an early adopter of the smart glass technology and began testing the product in its “vision picking” warehouse operations beginning in 2015. Vision picking leverages smart glasses to replace the mix of handheld scanners, “put-wall” light systems and paper pick lists traditionally used across the logistics industry for package picking operations.

The traditional process of picking items can consume a significant amount time as it requires workers to move back and forth between physically recording, scanning and moving orders. However, use of smart glasses eliminates many of these time-wasters to make identifying and processing the picking order completely hands free and more efficient.

Employees put on the smart glasses, which communicate visually to the worker where to go in the warehouse, what unit to pick and where to take the order once picked. The glasses can also scan and respond to voice commands in processing orders, which then upload immediately into a cloud platform. Because of this instantaneous process, the glasses can alert the worker if there is a mistake, which can be immediately corrected. This avoids ripples further down the supply chain which may have otherwise required time and or money to correct.

According to smart glass manufacture Ubimax, smart glasses can reduce unnecessary travel time in these operations by 40% and increased the efficiency of picks by 18%. Ultimately the system increases productivity, reduces errors and makes the process more user-friendly for employees’ daily work.

“We’ve received really good feedback. Sometimes when we have employees go back to using the old technology they complain and say they prefer using the smart glasses, which they say are more intuitive and make them more productive,” said Kumar.

Kumar also explained some of the challenges DHL initially faced in developing the first iterations of the hardware. “In the beginning we had to figure out how to integrate the smart glasses into the warehouse management system via middleware, and then there were challenges associated with the battery life and how to ergonomically communicate to the workers what to pick. Since then, however, we’ve ironed out those kinks,” he said.

In May this year, he expounded, DHL Supply Chain deployed the latest version of the Google smart glasses in its operations. These second-generation glasses have a longer battery life, faster processors, better voice recognition and shorter charging times.

While DHL said it mainly uses Google glasses for its four current operations in North America, the company is planning a rollout of more operations in South America and Europe. Beyond its work with Google, the integrator began pilot testing of smart glasses for its Netherlands warehouse vision picking operations in partnership with smart glass manufacture Ubimax last June.

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