How businesses are leading the wearable tech revolution

Wearable tech for our everyday lives hasn’t exactly taken off. There are multiple reasons for this, mostly around cost, wearability and its lack of desirable functionality. However, those factors aren’t the same in the business world.

They have vastly different budgets and needs, and let’s face it, when have work uniforms ever been fashionable? The wearable tech revolution isn’t going to be pioneered by hipsters living in Silicon Valley, it’s going to be ushered in by industries that can most benefit from the current technology.

Mining, construction, and technicians

An area that’s already seen implementation of wearables are mining and construction - high risk jobs where wearables offer additional safety measures.

Mining and construction companies have been experimenting with sensors and smartglasses (way to go Google Glass) that have a profound effect on safety. Sensors can determine if someone operating a piece of heavy machinery is in danger of a “microsleep”. Those moments when you think you’re awake, but the next thing you know your head is suddenly dropping onto your chest. By alerting the wearer, and potentially their supervisor, this technology could protect workers from being exposed to dangerous conditions.

Smartglasses have the ability to feed real-time information to people who need it, but can’t access a computer. Whether that’s while operating a piece of machinery, or 200 feet up on a cell tower. Some of these smartglasses have the ability to capture HD video of complex situations and allow for two-way communications with an expert or specialist in another location. This not only improves efficiency, it helps ensure that the right people are solving the right problems.

As these technologies get more widespread, we could see a dramatic drop in workplace injuries. That’s worth a financial investment. We could soon be seeing a world in which workers will shun jobsites without the added benefits of smartglasses and tech that monitors workers current conditions. In addition, sites with fewer accidents to report will be cheaper to insure, leaving more money to pay employees. Not only could employees be safer, they could also be making more money.

Police, fire and military

We’ve already seen many police officers being strapped with wearable cameras amidst accusations of misconduct. In fact, the New York Times reported that a Californian police department saw an 88 per cent drop in the number of complaints filed against officers 12 months after the cameras were implemented.

But wearable tech can do a lot more to help our best and brightest out on the front lines. Police and fire departments as well as the military have already starting implementing body sensors and wi-fi enabled clothing let them track their people in real-time. Not only can they monitor vital signs, stress levels, and locations, they can also provide constant communications to help guard the safety of their operatives.

Fire departments have also been experimenting with a body sensor that can track skin temperature and alert the wearer when they’re nearing dangerous levels of heat exposure. Perfect for a firefighter heading into a blaze to save an errant kitten.

Improvements in logistics

While safety is obviously a major benefit of wearables, using them to improve operational efficiencies could make them indispensable.

Large warehouses have been the first to implement technology to improve how things get from one place to another. From GPS tags on forklifts to armbands for the workers, companies from Amazon to Tesco have been tracking how goods are transported across their miles and miles of shelving. The goal is to find the most efficient routes, eliminate lost packages and to accurately gauge completion times for every item.

With new tech coming out to make businesses run more efficiently, we could see cost savings on some of our favorite goods. This also means it could become cost effective for small businesses to take the plunge into wearables.

The downside

No one wants to feel like big brother is looking over their shoulder. And that’s the direction some of this tech is moving. From chips implanted in your wrist that allow you to gain entry to your office, to badges that have microphones to monitor employees moods, some of this technology can feel very intrusive. In addition, there’s a vast amount of data being collected and it could fall prey to hackers. While on the outset someone having access to your heart rate on a daily basis doesn’t sound scary, but someone with the means to access all your daily conversations could easily glean enough information to answer the security questions on your email, social networks, and even your bank account.

If you’re interested jumping onto the tech bandwagon, make sure you have a few things in place first. Understand what you’re tracking, and why. As soon as you start to implement wearables you’re going to impact your office culture. Make sure you’re doing it in a positive way. There’s a fine line between what can make your business more efficient and what’s overstepping your staff’s privacy. Data protection is also essential. If you have all these in place you could be well on your way to a workforce covered in wearable tech.

If your employer comes to you with a great new piece of wearable tech, it might be smart to find out what they’re tracking and how they’re protecting it. Unless of course it’s meant to save your life. In that case just put it on.

Jo Blundell, Mobile Product Manager at Xero

Image source: Shutterstock/MIND AND I