The Current Barriers to Rapid AR Headset Implementation in the Manufacturing Space

Meagan Douglas
Thu, Jan 18, 2018
Despite current challenges, AR headsets like those provided by Vuzix, are already being used in the supply chain.
Despite current challenges, AR headsets like those provided by Vuzix, are already being used in the supply chain.

Augmented reality technology is new to most industries. While the military was the primary industry driving primitive AR experimentation for decades, broader applications have developed within the last 10 years. AR has branched out to numerous industries, chief among them is the supply chain. On the face of it, the AR headset represents clear advancements in productivity and employee capability.

In theory, workers on every level will have continuous streams of information before their eyes at every second of the workday. They will be able to communicate instantaneously across great distances, comparing live data with a colleague in Asia. Those who need to learn a task will have the directions spelled out step-by-step, sometimes with visual aids. If they still need help, they can contact an expert who will essentially be able to see through their eyes and propose a solution.

AR headset technology will eventually mark a clear advancement for the manufacturing industry. Before this boom can be realized, however, AR headsets must overcome certain hurdles. 

A Clear Interface Winner Has Yet to Be Chosen

"AR is still waiting for its steering wheel."

When a worker steps into a forklift, the steering wheel and dashboard controls are the clear interface. Requiring at least one hand to operate, the wheel keeps the worker's attention focused ahead and the dashboard control panel allows him or her to operate the forklift as needed. No one would ever think to operate a forklift with voice commands.

AR is still waiting for its steering wheel. Many headsets use a combination of voice and hand gesture interface. While voice sounds convenient, it can be an imperfect process. Voice commands need to be perfectly heard in order to be understood by the interface. The warehouse is a noisy setting and, without proper noise cancelation and voice authentication software, all workers would be shouting instructions into their headsets constantly. 

Likewise, hand gestures pose a problem. One of the clear advantages of the headset over the handset is allowing the worker to keep their hands free to focus on work. This is negated by asking employees to constantly gesture in front of their faces to keep the interface moving. Most motion sensors also depend on precise movement. An employee managing warehouse inventory may need to make a quick action - a misread gesture could be a costly setback.

Eye tracking arguably represents the best interface for AR headset technology - allowing the user to select and navigate with only basic eye movement. According to TechCrunch, there have been many  recent investments in this technology. For the warehouse worker, it represents the most sense. The noises, movement and physically demanding aspects of supply chain work could no longer potentially hinder device use.

Download the white paper Making the Case for Wearable Tech in the Warehouse and learn why and how wearable technology is currently being used in the supply chain.

Battery Life is Still Insufficient

Wareable stated that the Vuzix Blade 3000 has an eight-hour battery life. However, many models still struggle to reach this mark. Given the usual work shift, anything less than eight hours is not practical. Companies would essentially need to purchase two pairs of glasses per worker for each shift. AR headsets will not go mainstream until warehouse workers can wear them throughout a whole work day without interruption.

" Until 5G wireless is available, AR glasses won't have the network to properly function."

The Network Isn't There

Lastly, AR headsets require a strong, stable wireless connection to transmit and receive continuous data. Any hiccups in network prevent the technology from working in its intended fashion. While enterprise settings in all industries are working to boost network strength, the wireless framework simply does not exist yet. Hardware maker Qualcomm has reported that, until 5G wireless is readily available, AR glasses will not have the network they need to properly function.

Despite these limitations, AR glasses are still already useful for certain manufacturing processes. Improvements continue to be made and heavier-duty devices ODG's HL lineup allow sophisticated tech to be used outside of an office setting. Given the increasing pace of technology development, it is still feasible to see AR headsets greater affecting efficiency in the supply chain within five years.

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