The age of wearable devices is now well and truly mainstream, thanks to the launch of Apple's Watch and a whole range of smart devices designed for sports and fitness. Market analysis and intelligence agency ABI Research predicts that this year, about 90 million wearable devices will be sold and demand will be higher in 2015. Although it was never intended for commercial production, researchers at Microsoft have even developed a prototype for a 'smart bra', designed to monitor mood swings and prevent the wearer from giving into cravings and binge eating. Clearly applications for IP-enabled smart devices are only limited by our imagination. But let's return to business.
Smartglasses in particular, are set to have a big impact on the field service and logistics and transport industries. Shipments of smartglasses are expected rise very quickly from the current 87,000 shipped this year, to top 10 million annually by 2018, according to Juniper Research. They also report that interest in developing industrial applications for these devices is high, with around 70 per cent of developers within the enterprise IT sector looking to create appropriate offerings.
Field service is predicted to have the most to gain by adopting smartglasses, with Gartner estimating that it could increase profit levels by up to $1bn annually, through efficiency and productivity savings. But there are also a lot of potential benefits for smartglass adoption within the transportation industries and they will slowly compete with the smartphone and phablets like the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, as entry costs reduce.
Use of smartglasses within transport and logistics can be compared to voice technology, whereby commands are spoken by an operator and actioned by a local device or remote service, which helps to increase productivity levels and eliminate errors. However, whilst voice is effective to a degree, it has had limited potential for applications outside the four walls of a warehouse or depot to date. Smartglasses on the other hand, offer seemingly infinite applications for mobile and field based workers to enable cost and efficiency savings, using a combination of tiny computer connected to a heads-up display, with an integrated camera, microphone, and built-in connectivity.
For example; it will be possible for a driver to verify a shipment and automatically capture an image of the receiver to prove a successful exchange. All this can happen simultaneously in seconds, providing robust evidence and a very smooth transaction. Consumer brands looking to maximise the doorstep experience and project a sophisticated, high tech image are like to be intrigued by this, and working with a delivery company able to offer smartglass based proof of delivery would be a cool marketing differentiator.
And in the same way as smartphones and phablets have started to erode market share from traditional rugged devices, as smartglass technology matures, new lower-priced versions will launch and their adoption will become commercially viable.
Some of the basic functions of smartglasses will be invaluable to logistics providers and couriers to ensure added efficiency. For instance, instructions highlighting special instructions or upsell opportunity when delivering certain items can be displayed automatically, whereas it is now shown on a smartphone and needs to be checked by the driver manually. The technology in smartglasses could support a mobile worker like a 'virtual assistant' guiding them through relevant processes and minimising the time required for training. Equally, any nuances within a delivery round can be displayed visually, using sat nav functionality and photo quality maps explaining how to find the entry points to more complex buildings for instance.
The ability to automatically capture video or photographs whilst on a delivery round means undisputable evidence exists that a job was completed properly and this would be invaluable in the event of a missed delivery claim. As online commerce continues to expand, the cost of fraudulent goods lost in transit (GLIT) claims is costing UK retailers over £400 million annually, with the average claim estimated at over £40, according to IMRG.
Having real-time proof and traceability is the key to eliminating this problem and that's where smartglasses with connectivity will assist. With a robust track and trace solution that works in real-time, they will know the real delivery status and can deal with fraudsters accordingly. That will be welcomed by 82 per cent of retailers, who say they find it difficult to distinguish between fraudulent claims and honest customers. Having video or photographic evidence of a successful delivery will remove any ambiguity.
In the case of courier firms, Smartglasses could also have an impact on control room functions, whereby instead of manually having to schedule jobs and push deliveries out to the driver, he or she can directly request information about the next job verbally. This could also be used to give them real-time performance updates, "Have I met this week's KPIs?" "Did I reach my quality target for a bonus?" The screen display could provide an instant indicator, with or without comparison figures.
However, an article about the potential applications of smartglasses for the transportation industry could not be complete without a reference to safety. It is clearly an issue and a solution needs to be found. In the US, drivers in California have already been issued with penalties for driving whilst wearing smartglasses and the London Metropolitan Police have confirmed they will also regard wearing Google Glass and other smartglasses whilst driving an offence. But with a bit of common sense and strict penalties, this can be overcome just as the problem of phone usage whilst driving is slowly being controlled.
In the end, the biggest benefit of wearables – whether smartglasses, watches or any other combination of devices used, is the ability they bring to allow the wearer to access data from anywhere.
That's what the real advantage is, whether it is a map showing directions to an entry point, special delivery instructions, a video confirming a successful delivery or instant feedback about productivity and performance.
This can be captured from anywhere and communicated in real-time to the people than need to act on it. As Wired magazine summed up, "Data will not help you if you cannot see it when you need it." In today's IP-enabled world that was never truer and wearables like smartglasses provide this ability.
Whilst a smartphone has data, it is often hidden inside a worker's pocket whereas glasses bring that information directly into the field of vision. They have the potential to eventually displace smartphones just as they in turn displaced PCs. It is just a matter of time, and having the imagination to explore the possibilities available.
David Upton is managing director of DA Systems Ltd