Barriers to Rapid AR Headset Implementation in the Manufacturing Space

Robert Brice
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, augmented reality (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, AR development has branched out to broader commercial and consumer applications within the last 10 years as well. On the surface, the AR headset appears to offer the supply chain clear advancements in productivity and employee capability.

Download the free white paper Making the Case for Wearable Tech in the Warehouse  to learn how wearable technology like AR headsets are being used in the supply  chain.

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, even with visual aids. If they still need help, they can contact an expert who can virtually "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 proverbial 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.

Compare this to AR, which is still waiting for its proverbial 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 cancellation and voice authentication software, all workers would be shouting instructions into their headsets constantly.

Current AR headsets using voice commands and gestures can be problematic for workers operating in noisy warehouse environments.

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. This solution makes the most sense for a warehouse worker, where the noise, movement and physical demands of supply chain work could otherwise potentially hinder effective use.

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 have to purchase two pairs of glasses per worker for each shift, creating a costly barrier to implementation. 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 connectivity prevent the technology from working as intended. While enterprise settings in all industries are working to boost network strength and reliability, the wireless framework required for widespread AR use 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 still provide several advantages for certain manufacturing processes. Improvements continue to be made and heavier-duty rugged devices in ODG's HL lineup allow sophisticated tech to be used outside of an office setting. Given the increasing pace of technology development in this area, expect to see AR headsets making an impact in supply chain efficiency within five years.

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