02_TheStateOfSmartGlasses

By Eric Johnsen

I am coming up for air after four weeks of excitement and the craziness of leaving my job running the “Glass at Work” program at Google to run business development for APX Labs (this article by Al Sacco captures my logic behind joining APX).  Admittedly there was some self-doubt and apprehension, not just by me but by my family (11 year old daughter: “did you get to keep your Glass?”) and friends (“You never gave me that tour of Google!”).  My main question, which impossible to answer from inside Google, given the lightening rod that is the Glass team, was…

…Is the demand for smart glasses in the enterprise really there?

I could smell the demand but I needed to see it from the eyes of a company servicing this exact part of the industry.  What I have found is that the drumbeat of demand for smart glasses in the enterprise continues to build and the market is rapidly zeroing in on the key use cases and industries for immediate business returns.  In this blog, I’ll highlight what I think is the best starting point for businesses eager to solve problems with smart glasses.  It’s a key use case that is addressable today.

Back to my story.  I spent the first few weeks on the road meeting my new co-workers, investors, key partners and customers.  While it’s a bit humbling no longer being “the Google Glass guy” in a given forum (an executive who, four weeks ago, would have sought me out, literally walked past my outstretched hand at an event), it is clearer to me now than ever before that we literally have a super-rich fuel:air mixture waiting for a spark. One of the key moments of clarity and validation for me came a few weeks back.  I was listening to a Fortune 50 executive at an oil and gas conference in Houston. It was hosted by our partner Salesforce, sponsored by Accenture and attended by GE, Google and others. Shortly after we presented our product, Skylight, on-stage, the Fortune 50 executive outlined simple math showing the impact on profitability by reducing downtime in oil field operations.  In his example: A 1% decrease in downtime resulted in double digit increase in profit.  GE’s CEO Jeff Immelt describes these as “1% problems.”

These operations, these types of “service and maintenance” applications are ripe for positive disruption using smart glasses – and the business case for smart glasses in this area is not new.  It’s been around for decades. My co-worker on the Glass team and longtime wearables visionary, Thad Starner, was discussing these use cases with companies such as Boeing almost 20 years ago.

What is new is that smart glasses are now being produced in an acceptable form factor and at scale.  This availability is due mainly to Moore’s Law and some smart people making big bets at Google, Epson, Vuzix, and other manufacturers yet to announce.  As a result, businesses are now eager to field test smart glasses in their environment.

I’m going to skip outlining industries, use cases, making a broad case for smart glasses in the enterprise and debating whether the price point is low enough.  First, these things have been discussed widely, recently.  Second, the businesses who are ready know who they are and don’t need convincing on the above points.  They contact us every day at APX using our interest form.  (This strong inbound interest was another key data point for me in confirming demand.)  The question they ask us is: “Where do I start?”

Service and Maintenance

Many organizations already have use cases they want to start with.  Leading businesses have metrics with which to measure success of using smart glasses to address those use cases.  For the rest that haven’t zero-ed in on the first one or two to start with and show the best returns to trigger further investment and a rapid broader follow-on deployment, we point to “service and maintenance.”  Almost every major organization, across vertical industries, has some element of this.  Some examples:

  • Aircraft mechanic accesses engine status and manuals
  • Oil field worker follows complex standard operating procedures to operate an expensive piece of machinery
  • Logistics delivery person or installer gets details on the next delivery and the ability to provide confirmation and evidence of delivery/installation back to headquarters
  • Manufacturing line worker brings a bench level engineer to the line via real-time video using the camera in the smart glasses to “see what he sees”
  • Insurance adjuster documents an inspection on a damaged vehicle
  • Healthcare workers views a just-in-time snippet of training on a new piece of equipment

Why is there so much value in applying smart glasses to make these “service and maintenance” workers safer, more productive, accountable and accurate?

It goes back to the equation that I shared above from the oil and gas executive:

  • Organization buy/build equipment once — and service it, or use the equipment to service their customers, many times.  This equipment is often very expensive and complex to operate.
  • Lack of proper maintenance leads to downtime, which has exponential negative impacts on return on this expensive capital equipment.  Remember the 1% problems that have a disproportional positive impact on profit when solved?
  • Maintenance is human resource intensive and therefore very expensive.  Any productivity gains have a huge impact on the bottom line.  And this cost (or any benefit) multiplies exponentially according to “network effect” principles that enable (or not) these workers to collaborate with each other, given a finite set of experts that need to spread across a large set of inexperienced workers.
  • Last, and specific to smart glasses, it is mission critical that these types of workers have two hands free to do their jobs without losing visual focus on the task at hand, often at remote locations.  For this reason and others, there hasn’t been a computing form factor that allowed businesses to harness computing gains for “deskless” (think “blue collar” workforce) workers vs “desk” (or white collar) workers who use laptops, tablets or smartphones.  With smart glasses, we now have that form factor.

HOW to start: The Ignite Pilot Program by APX Labs

There is only one way to prove or disprove hypotheses around smart glasses within a given enterprise – try it.  With a rapidly growing and relatively new technology like smart glasses, there is no replacement for putting a pair of smart glasses on, for example, an aircraft maintenance worker and letting her pull in a remote expert to see what she sees in real time while maintaining an aircraft engine – then testing how much more effective, safe and accurate she is with the glasses than without.

Our Ignite pilot program balances time and cost to accomplish exactly this.  We are currently running dozens of these types of engagements and look forward to sharing the results soon, when our customers are ready to balance publicity with competitive differentiation.

If you and your organization are ready to take the next step and pilot a smart glasses solution, click here. I want to hear from you!  I also look forward to your feedback on this blog using the feedback link below.