Early forms of wearable devices have been popular in warehouses and distribution centers for a number of years. But the technology is growing rapidly in sophistication and application. In this conversation with SupplyChainBrain Editor-in-Chief Bob Bowman, Shash Anand, Vice President of Product Strategy at SOTI, describes the role that wearables are coming to play in satisfying customer demands for full visibility of their online orders.
SCB: Where do you see the most progress and acceptance today in wearables for transportation and logistics?
Anand: We're seeing a variety of different types of wearable technologies. Hands-free barcode scanning is starting to save time. Customers are expecting same-day deliveries now. Two to three weeks used to be fine, then it got to days, then to literally same day. So we’re thinking now, how do we save on seconds? Every second matters.
Another example is the wearable headset, where you can quickly look up information or find parts, and do it all completely hands-free. For truck drivers, there’s Life, a wearable from a company called SmartCap. It’s a band that fits into your headwear to manage fatigue, and helps prevent falling asleep at the wheel. Google Glass is being used in field services with elevator-maintenance technicians. Ties and watches are starting to be used in transportation and logistics to communicate immediately during emergency situations.
SCB: What does hands-free barcode scanning looks like?
Anand: There are multiple ways that they do this. Headsets allow you to turn on the scanner with your voice. A company called ProGlove offers a glove with a scanner embedded on top.
SCB: Barcode scanning is especially valuable in the warehouse. Are there other warehouse or distribution-center applications that provide interesting opportunities for wearables?
Anand: In the warehouse, barcode scanning is probably the number-one use case for picking, packing and shipping, and they're starting to leverage both wearables and voice to find items faster.
SCB: You mentioned Google Glass, which has not caught on in the consumer market. Was there at a point where the progress of wearables in transportation and logistics stalled?
Anand: Google Glass has a much better use-case scenario for business than for the consumer world. Global spending for augmented or virtual reality, like Google Glass, is estimated to reach $23 billion by 2025.
SCB: Are wearables at any point a substitution for robots in a warehouse or distribution facility?
Anand: That's where part of the technology is going to end up, as wearables are collecting more and more information about tasks. I think that we're in a transitionary period, a learning process. If I need to look up information, there's still the requirement to use your hands for things that a robot can't necessarily do at this time. But there isn't any reason why in the future that these tasks couldn’t potentially be performed by a robot.
SCB: And what about the future? What form might wearables take in the years ahead?
Anand: As we move into the future, there are going to be concerns about implementing wearable technology, especially in the field or workplace. That's something we all need to consider, with most people around the world constantly connected and accessible through their devices.
An increase in the number of mobile devices means there's an increase in management complexity. There are security and privacy concerns. Mobile-device analytics are going to come into play, and there will be a huge spike in cybersecurity threats. As we’ve moved from inside the desktop to outside the four walls, we've increased the attack vector.
At the same time, from an employer's perspective, it’s important that they have the ability to access the right data and information in order to improve efficiency. As we adopt this wonderful technology, the devices will become mission critical, so we need to think about having a centralized user authentication system. We need single sign-on capability into all these devices.
SCB: What kind of growth do you see in this technology?
Anand: The wearables market has been very strong. It's growing at about 19% from the data that we have, to around $70 billion for the year. It allows transportation and logistics providers to reduce costs and improve efficiencies. With purchases being shipped directly to consumers’ homes, combined with the service expectations of customers around rapid, same-day deliveries, the last mile becomes a big challenge. Ten years from now, customers will want full visibility and transparency into every aspect of the supply chain — to understand where an order is, and whether it’s going to be here in the next hour or so. I think that's what customers are looking for.
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