Beyond Google Glass: The wearable tech that will revolutionize business

From heads-up displays to implantable silicon, a brave new business world of innovative wearable tech is fast taking shape.

Credit: Mihai Simonia
Beyond Google Glass: The wearable tech that will revolutionize business

Think wearable technology is only about porn on your glasses, silly watches, and digital pedometers for runners? Think again. Companies like SAP, Epson, IBM, Plantronics, and even Walt Disney, are bringing wearable technology to business. 

In the not-too-distant future, mechanics will see the schematics of heavy equipment they need to repair on a heads-up display, and flexible semiconductors will be implemented within the bodies of patients to broadcast data to their doctors. Office workers will connect directly with customer data via a telephone-like head set, and visitors to Disneyland will wear wristbands that double as admission tickets, hotels keys, and payment cards.

Following are real-world examples of wearable tech geared toward transforming business.

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SAP and Vizux: Heads-up data delivery

Who says wearable technology is only for the digerati? Not SAP Vice President Paul Boril. The German software giant is teaming up with Vuzix, a developer of connected eyewear, to bring wearable technology to industry.

A forklift driver will soon don glasses connected to a smartphone on her belt that can access data from a server that is then displayed in front of her eyes. The glasses guide workers to products on their pick lists; once at the shelf, workers can scan the barcode to make sure they have the correct item and confirm that it has been picked. Boril says that energy companies, railways, and hospitals are also interested in this heads-up approach to delivering data.

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SAP and Vizux: Maintenance made easy

Order fulfillment is only half the SAP-Vuzix story.

Suppose that driver’s forklift has a problem. Normally that means taking the equipment out of service. But if it’s relatively simple, the driver can call a technician who can walk him through a checklist -- complete with visual prompts -- and make the fix on the spot.

An SAP app being discussed would allow railway workers to inspect train wheels by simply looking at them. The glasses would then check to see if the wheels are still in round; if they are not, they’ll be “painted” red; if they are, they’ll appear green. Yellow? Too close to call, and the mechanic will have to perform a manual check. (Fast-forward to 1:50 or open in new window.)

Disney: Enhancing the guest experience

With millions of visitors pouring into its theme parks every year, The Walt Disney Co. is always looking for ways to improve the experience of its guests. Disney is now testing wearable tech called a MagicBand  --  an RF device containing a bit of code that communicates with the park’s servers. (The bands themselves contain no data.) Guests who want to use the MagicBand will fill out some basic preferences and information on the Disney website and use it to enter their Disney Resort hotel room and theme park, make a fast-pass reservation for a popular ride, and buy food and merchandise, all with a tap on a reader.

Epson and APX Labs: Data mining at a glance

A squad of Marines is patrolling an unfriendly city. As their vehicle passes a crowd of men, the soldiers’ headsets focus on their faces, and using facial recognition software, potential enemies are identified. That’s not a reality yet, but it is an application under development by Epson and APX Labs. The hardware, which is already available for consumers, is Epson’s Moverio BT-100, an Android-based set of 3D glasses. (Click here to watch video in new window.)

Using another Epson/APX app firefighters battling a dangerous brush fire could get information on where the fire is headed and be pointed to hot spots that need to be doused.

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Epson and Scope Technologies: Visual repair instructions

Fixing a complex pump on site can be a challenge for a technician. Juggling tools while holding a bulky repair manual wastes time. Instead, an application being developed by Epson and Scope Technologies will allow the mechanic to look at the pump, and get visual instructions on what parts to remove and how to replace them safely. This application is also built around the Moverio BT-100. The glasses use a built-in camera to provide instructions and animated diagrams to the wearer, which are overlaid directly onto the person's field of view as he or she goes about completing the task. Computer CAD models that are fed into a content management system are used to provide instructions for the unit.

Plantronics: Programmable headset

Telephone headsets are hardly new, but Plantronics has elevated that mundane device to the level of wearable computer technology. Its Voyager Legend UC integrates with a user’s other hardware and software. On the simplest level, the headset identifies incoming callers and announces them verbally via integration with the user’s address book. A spoken command answers the call or sends it to voicemail. Using the company’s APIs, developers can write more advanced applications like this: A call comes in via an iOS or Android device; the headset checks to see if that person is in the user’s Salesforce database. If so, that information is automatically pulled up on the user’s PC; no more fumbling around while the caller waits.

IBM: The tiny bit of silicon that could save lives

Suppose a semiconductor were flexible. You could make a chip that could be sewn into your clothes to monitor your heart. That tiny bit of silicon could also be placed inside your body, and when equipped with an antenna and surrounded by bio-safe packaging, it could inform doctors of your condition long before it becomes critical.

Using a process called “spalling,” researchers at IBM’s Watson Research Center can literally peel off the very top layer of a semiconductor. Although the slice is 10,000 times thinner than a sheet of paper, it retains the functionality of the underlying circuit, while consuming a mere 0.6 volts of power, and could cover or roll on top of almost anything, says IBM’s Stephen Bedell.