Yves Cosendai, director solutions business development EMEA, Dynabook Europe GmbH, discusses how smart glasses powered by mobile edge computing are driving value for field workers
With assisted/augmented (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies making inroads in the enterprise market, many organisations are finding ways of incorporating it into their everyday practices, to create more immersive and engaging work environments. Industries from healthcare, to manufacturing and construction, are finding these increasingly sophisticated technologies a big aid in improving processes, connecting field workers, enhancing safety and delivering training.
Unsurprisingly, it was 2020 and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic that sped this up. As companies implemented digital transformation initiatives to support business continuity, the use of AR and VR also ramped up, suited as it was to enable remote working and cross collaboration. Today, this adoption is expected to continue to accelerate, particularly as users grow more comfortable with these technologies, the increased convergence of physical assets into digital assets and the integration of 4G/5G connectivity.
Enterprise smart glasses adoption is not only predicted to grow in the coming years, but that growth will accelerate as spending starts to transition away from mobile augmented reality and towards head-worn, hands free, augmented reality. This statement from ARtillery is supported by our research, which found that 63% of organisations expect to deploy smart glasses within the next three years.
Alongside AR, the edge computing market has also accelerated substantially over the past year. Our own research has found that over half (52%) of IT decision makers regard purchasing decisions around edge computing to be more important now than pre-pandemic. In fact, edge computing is perceived as the most disruptive emerging technology, ahead of AI, IoT and cyber security. This in turn is driving innovation and adoption around edge infrastructure, with IDC projecting an 800% increase in the number of apps at the edge by 2024.
But why should any apps use edge computing? Well, technologies like AR will leverage integrated mobile broadband (4G/5G) and edge computing for adoption at scale. The high bandwidth of the latest network technologies enable the deployment of fully collaborative working use cases. Meanwhile, the move to the edge brings the intelligence closer to the end-user, providing key savings in time of execution and network resources usage, while simultaneously allowing to perform tasks without internet access at all.
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Smart glasses use cases
With 4G now ubiquitous, and both 5G and edge computing on an upward trajectory, technologies such as AR smart glasses are bound to see some big opportunities in the enterprise market over the next year. Notable use cases include:
Remote support would involve a worker wearing a pair of smart glasses and an expert or trainer in a different location being able to see what they are seeing. This would enable experts in any location to give live directions to the worker on site, to offer training, advice on machine repairs, constructing new parts or even cleaning parts.
Not only could this reduce unplanned downtime and carbon emissions from the cost of travel, it is also cheaper and addresses many of the skills shortages currently facing the machinery and construction industries. Experts that don’t need to travel onsite can speak with multiple workers in a day, thus allocating their resources more efficiently and creating big returns in the process.
Sometimes, multiple employees need to collaborate on single objects so being able to do this virtually would bring huge benefits, For example, if a virtual object needs a team of designers to work on it in real time, the use of smart glasses can assist greatly by enabling real-time sharing of 3D models and annotations. In the manufacturing sector, in particular, this will have huge benefits for companies that try to reduce unnecessary travel.
Much has been said about using AR to transform training in the construction/manufacturing sectors – and with good reason. OEMs could feasibly send machinery with building instructions loaded onto AR smart glasses, allowing any employee at the other end to assemble it. While it would require the upfront investment of equipping all new recruits with smart glasses, the savings in the long term have the potential to be enormous.
Sales and marketing
AR has even infiltrated the world of sales and marketing. Imagine vendors walking prospective buyers through virtual versions of the factory floor, or demonstrating where a new machine would go and how it would look, using AR. Vendors could even set up model shop floors to walk buyers through from their own offices, reducing the need for travel and its related monetary and environmental costs.
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While the benefits of AR smart glasses and edge computing may seem obvious, it is really the last two years that have made this technology so valuable. Circumstances brought about by lockdowns and reduced global travel has forced businesses to evolve at a faster rate, and companies are looking for increasingly sophisticated collaboration tools to improve communication over the long-term. AR smart glasses can enhance the new environment of hybrid working (which is here to stay) by enabling faster and better connections, that work within the changing dynamics of a post-pandemic world.
Written by Yves Cosendai, Director Solutions Business Development EMEA, Dynabook Europe GmbH