The Future of Wearable Technology in the WorkplacePosted on by
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An era of remarkable innovation is underway. We’re looking at the advent of brand-new technologies called “Wearable Computers”. Wearable computers, also known as body-borne computers or wearables, are defined as “miniature electronic devices that are worn by the bearer under, with or on top of clothing”. (dictionary.com). We are already starting to appreciate their presence in our daily lives as people start wearing devices like Fitbit, Nike fuel band, Jawbone Up, Pebble Watch, even the device to track dog’s activity, “Whistle”.
In early 2013, I became part of the select group of 8,000 selected for the social experiment conducted by Google called the “Google Glass Explorer Program”. The goal for this unique national social experiment was to figure out how wearable computers could work in a complex social setting. Last year, I was fortunate to be invited to present my experiences to NIOSH staff in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I experienced many advantages to this technology – displaying driving directions, translating multiple languages, providing flight information, and reminding me of appointments. My contribution included transmitting a point of view (POV) of a surgeon during a live orthopedic surgery to medical students in real time. Wearable technology can be used for working in remote locations, disaster areas and underserved communities. It is possible to transmit information/data/images/scenarios back to other healthcare providers and workers at multiple sites simultaneously.
Although it has been widely reported in the Media that “Google Glass” is no longer on sale and the product has been discontinued by Google, the communication I have received from Google (shared publically 1/15/15)states that Google Glass has now graduated from the explorer/experimental Google[x] labs program. They are now in a process of re-engineering the Glass to be launch as a 2.0 product for the market.
Although we don’t know when the new Google Glass version will be released, Google continues to work with its Google Glass partners. The “Google at Work” program has been up and running (Hedgecock, S. 2015). Additionally, Microsoft recently announced the HoloLens (Warren, C 2015) which will continue to transform the use of wearable computers similar to Google Glass in the work space.
Applications in the Workplace
There are many applications for wearable computers in the workplace and the field of occupational safety and health. Below are a few examples of how Google and others are applying wearable technology in the workplace.
- Google Glass Explorer Patrick Jackson (Kelly 2014), a firefighter from Rocky Mountain, North Carolina, built an interesting “Glassware” (application) which provided hands-free access to the information that firefighters need in the field. In one of the test cases an app demonstrated how to dismantle a body of a Ford Explorer and extract an injured victim. Because the information was displayed on the glasses, both of the firefighter’s hands were free to work on removing the victim.
- X0Eye technology (Shaw 2014) has taken the challenge of using wearable technologies at the workplace one step further. They are building an industrial grade, robust, ruggedized, ANSI-certified, reusable, low-cost smart eyewear. This product includes two 5 megapixel cameras which sit in the upper corner of each eyepiece and can be used for taking photos, live streaming videos in real time and recording footage. They were able to house an accelerometer, gyroscope, and processor into a smaller portable device. At this point in time the product has yet to be released. The final weight of the device will eventually determine the long-term, continuous use of these wearable devices by the employees in an eight hour work shift.
- Companies like “Wearable Intelligence” (Fiegerman 2014) have been working with oil companies/enterprises/Fortune 500 companies to transmit real-time information back to the worksite. One such example includes a change in gas pressure presented in real time on the Google Glass virtual display while an employee is trying to open the lever of the valve. The information has been presented in real time as the worker turns off the pressure valve. The implication of such information in prevention and reduction of exposures to the worker is enormous. We’re looking at providing a complete loop of such information in which the exposed individual can actually see the exposure occurring in real time and then he/she can take fundamental steps to avoid or limit that exposure. This also has application for those working with radiation and hazardous chemicals and for those working in enclosed spaces, mining, contaminated sites, and disaster response.
There are many potential benefits to introducing wearable technology in the workplace. As with all new technologies, we need to proceed cautiously. These applications could raise potential concerns for workers. What if users experience headaches (Ackerman 2014), double vision and dizziness as we saw in the case study with surgeons? Is usage optional? Will employers need to develop usage guidelines? Recently Google Glass was noted to be a distraction for drivers (Davies 2014). Will employers have to have implement policies restricting use while driving to limit liability? Will employer infrastructure need to be updated to accommodate multiple users? These are pragmatic questions that need further testing in the work place. I look forward to seeing how wearable technology will be applied in the future.
Ismail Nabeel MD, MPH FACOEM
Dr. Nabeel is Deputy Medical Director of Employee Health, Safety and Wellness and the Selikoff Centers for Occupational Health, Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Ackerman, Elise. “Could Google Glass Hurt Your Eyes? A Harvard Vision Scientist and Project Glass Advisor Responds.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 4 Mar. 2013. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.
Davies, Alex. “Turns Out Google Glass May Be Only Kind of Distracting While Driving | WIRED.” Wired.com. Conde Nast Digital, 11 Nov. 2014. Web. 06 Jan. 2015. <http://www.wired.com/2014/11/google-glass-driving-distraction-study/
Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved January 06, 2015, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/wearable computer)
Fiegerman, Seth. “Google Glass Is Getting a Second Look from Businesses.” The Sydney Morning Herald. 2 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.
Hedgecock, S. (2015, January 23). Google Glass Startups Claim: Not Dead Yet. Retrieved from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/sarahhedgecock/2015/01/23/these-entrepreneurs-depend-on-google-glass-so-why-are-they-happy/
Kelly, Heather. “Fighting Fires with the Help of Google Glass.” CNN. Cable News Network, 23 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.
Kerr, D. “Doctors Testing Google Glass to Get Real-time Patient Data.” CNET. 12 Mar. 2014. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. http://www.cnet.com/news/doctors-testing-google-glass-to-get-real-time-patient-data/
Shaw, Kachina. “XOEye Technologies Taking Wearables Beyond the Device.” ITBusinessEdge, 07 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Sept. 2014.
Warren, C. (2015, January 22). Microsoft HoloLens won’t be the next Google Glass, and that’s a good thing. (Mashable) Retrieved from http://mashable.com/2015/01/21/microsoft-hololens-and-google-glass/