The sixth annual Enterprise Wearable Technology Summit which wrapped last week in Dallas is put on by Brainxchange, the company behind Augmented World Expo (AWE). The company has consolidated its position at the nexus of the growing enterprise XR ecosystem, with the ability to bring together both augmented reality companies and the large enterprises that are now testing and implementing XR solutions.
For EWTS Brainxchange focused on securing participation from the end user, and achieved a 75–25 ratio of buyers to sellers. They invited process innovation executives from Fortune 1000 companies from all over the world one at a time to share their experiences implementing XR in their workflows. Michael Gonzalez, head of audience development at BrainXchange told us when he identifies end users that are seriously considering or actively deploying XR, he will go above and beyond to get them to attend, even if that means calling 47 times over two years. As a result, for the first time at an XR conference, buyers outnumbered sellers. Their use cases were front and center, illustrating why enterprise XR is at an inflection point.
The use cases revealed qualities companies look for when bringing new solutions to their specific business process. While spatial computing had its powerful cameo at the show, mundane tasks like VR training, remote experts (see-what-I-see), and work instructions were the stars, though glamorous they are not. The emerging killer apps were again confirmed to be training and simulation, knowledge capture, remote experts, and work instructions.
These kinds of enterprise solutions are table stakes for platform providers like Ubimax, whose Frontline system is a SaaS platform for these universally used applications, as is Upskill’s Skylight. Scope AR’s Worklink, and Epson’s new low cost SaaS platform for its smartglasses are focused on instructions and remote assistance on a single AR platform. REFLEK’T ONE is a similar platform whose focus is the industrial maintenance aftermarket (maintenance).
PTC, the big, publicly held enterprise XR solutions company, also had a visible presence at the show. They, too, were promoting the suite of AR solutions it’s created since its acquisition of Vuforia five years ago. Vuforia introduced it’s Chalk program, a method of writing on a shared screen with a remote expert in in the olden days of 2017.
These companies all use a wide range of devices appropriate for each client’s needs. Sometimes all you need is a smartphone, and sometimes you need a spatial computer.
All these solutions providers work across XR devices. In fact, Qualcomm, in one of the biggest anouncement at the show, launched the Qualcomm Enterprise XR Program to simplify and coordinate work across the huge range of XR devices (all of them except for Magic Leap) using Qualcomm’s XR-optimized Snapdragon family of processors.
Head Mounted Displays
We noted two things about this. Three of the biggest companies in the space were not here. Oculus, because its OC 6 event is this week, Microsoft because the HoloLens 2 is not yet available, and Google, who we’ve never seen on the floor of an XR event. Maybe Glass markets itself?
This cleared the floor for others. Realwear, whose “ruggedized” (nice adjective) voice controlled displays have seen a lot of uptake this year. Vuzix’ highly anticipated new M-400 microdisplays, which are loaded with features, were also on display, along with the Vuzix Blade.
Third Eye announced it X2 Smart Glasses, which feature a 42 degree field of view, SLAM and 5G support, and it weighs less than half as much as the Hololens 2. Lenovo, too has a new AR HMD. Like many of the others, it is optimized for basic tasks like remote assistance. Let’s keep in mind that the real money is in recurring monthly license fees, not the devices themselves. Microsoft’s dedicated HoloLens enterprise group is selling a wide range of services from Azure. HTC Vive set up an enterprise group under Dan O’Brien earlier this year to leverage its position as the leading provider of VR hardware. A Viveport for Enterprise VR solutions is said to be in the works.
We saw a new player on the field, Iristick, whose new, ultra lightweight frames are intended for full-shift applications. It runs off a smartphone app. And then there’s the other spatial computing company, Nreal, who made a splash at AWE when it announced it’s $499 spatial computing glasses for consumers, and drew a lawsuit from Magic Leap, where the founder used to work. At EWTS, Nreal was showing a much more developed demo than we saw at AWE and CES. It had full hand interaction with objects that was quite clear and compelling, as they continue to make a case for themselves.
Mira, the Sequoia-backed company behind the $99 smartphone-powered AR headset, has been relatively stealthy lately. They hosted an exclusive dinner t for a number of executives to showcase the enterprise product, a smartphone based reflective system with their own software suite which gets customers get up and running with AR software instantly without any coding, or third party vendors.
UPS, Airbus, and Lockheed Use Cases
We’ll be writing more about use cases in the coming month, but two stood out for me. Robin Hensley, VP of operations technology at UPS, gave a well attended presentation in which she talked about the wide range of VR, AR and sensor-based wearable devices that UPS uses every day. Fast, effective training is critical when when UPS adds 100,000 seasonal workers every Christmas.
UPS drivers and sorters are trained in VR. UPS also uses ring and wrist scanners. These augmentations have doubled the speed of sorting and reduced errors by 60%. Andreas Oeder, Digital Capability Leader at Airbus made several points about this: Airbus uses much AR that is not smart glasses. They use audio instructions, speech to text, which are integrated into ear protection.
Shelley Peterson, Emerging Technologies Lead at Lockheed spoke about the work they are doing with exoskeletons and other non-HMD solutions, which reduce stress and workplace injury. At the same time, she spoke about one of the most advanced applications in the field, using the HoloLens and Scope AR WorkLink for spatial alignment. We wrote about that solution, which decreased production times dramatically while reducing mistakes.
We’re written recently about how BMW uses Realwear and Ubimax to augment their local service engineers, and how Raymond trains forklift driver on real equipment in VR. As with the personal computer, the workplace may become the place most people really get used to using XR.
Training and Simulation
More than one person told me “training is the killer app” for VR.
HTC Vive’s enterprise group was out in full force, along with Inlusion, Circuit Stream, and Inhance, all of whom produce VR training for activities as diverse as de-icing a jet to welding. Anything that is DIRE (dangerous, impossible, remote and/or expensive) will benefit from VR training. Companies are also using VR for training public speakers, salespeople and human resources employees.
Given the proven benefits of VR training, and the size of the potential market it is no surprise to find many developers of VR training solutions at EWTS. We saw fantastic demos from Inhance, Illusion, and Circuit Stream. With so many enterprises attending, like Exxon, Pfizer, Italy’s Electrolux (27 factories), SNCF (French railways), United Technologies, Boeing, Medtronic, and Gulfstream, McDonalds, CBRE, TD Ameritrade, 7–11, Constallation Brands, US Foods, and Sodexo, EWTS was a target rich environment for these companies.
As baby boomers retire in greater numbers, the need for enterprises to capture their work processes becomes more critical. Using spatial computing, new employees now have the opportunity to literally walk in their shoes though every step. The trick here, showed to me by both PTC (using HoloLens 1) and Magic Leap, is to anchor instructions on the real-life equipment.
Wearables, Gloves, Exoskeletons, and Sensors
BeBop Sensors announced it made a substantial sale to the US Air Force for its new haptic gloves. Proglove showed off thier wearable scanners. When I asked Andrew Fazzone, their business development manager, who their competitors were he said, “Honeywell. They were just here.” Honeywell’s James Hendrickson and Joshua Powell took the stage to showcase the next generation of voice wearables for mobile workers; and HoloLight showed us their new stylus for spatial writing and drawing.
The Levitate AIRFRAME is a wearable, lightweight technology engineered to improve upper extremity musculoskeletal health in skilled trade workers who engage in repetitive arm motion and/or static elevation of the arms. The AIRFRAME lowers exertion levels by up to 80% — keeping workers healthier and more productive, while mitigating healthcare and disability costs.The Wall Street Journal reported last month that the Toyota Woodstock plant has made the Levitate AIRFRAME required equipment in the facility’s weld shop.
We got a chance to actually try an exoskeleton from a Thailand-based startup, Astride Bionics. You could see if you had to crouch with a fifty pound rivet gun this could be very helpful. Reducing fatigue and workplace injury is a topic that came up frequently.
We spoke to at least a dozen participants who were positive they would yield significant benefits from the show, which provided them with the lowest cost-per-lead of any conference, catapulting it into the very top tier of XR conferences, with its biggest and most productive conferences still ahead as Enterprise Wearable hit an inflection point. The ROI of XR process enhancements and proven success are simply too big for any successful company to ignore any longer.