Augmate wants to make working in a warehouse like playing Terminator with boxes

“I fell in love with augmented reality, but there were some things I didn’t like about it. I didn’t like that it was on a smartphone. I didn’t like the gimmicky marketing things it was being used for. I thought it could solve real world problems for businesses.”

Pete Wassell is an IT veteran who spent more than a decade working for IBM before leaving to become the co-founder and CEO of Augmate. Created in 2010, the company just raised $2.8 million in seed funding and is committed to bringing smart eyewear to the enterprise.

“Digital information is not where it’s needed or expected. I want to merge the digital world and the physical world. I want to be able to right click on physical objects and get information on them.”

As the founder of a fast-growing AR Glasses group on LinkedIn, designed to bring together experts in the field, Pete is a real evangelist for smart eyewear and he’s convinced about the practical benefits it can deliver for businesses.

Wearables in the workplace

Augmate in Supply Chain from Augmate on Vimeo.

“The spark was bringing database software and smart eyewear together to add value to businesses,” explains Pete, but Augmate has move beyond that to cover the whole supply chain, working with major players in manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, logistics, and retail to create practical solutions “for people who need their hands to do their jobs.”

There are lots of practical examples of the business value:

  • An assembly line worker can get data from industrial machinery about uptime, maintenance schedules, and potential errors. Machine sensors can relay temperature or vibration warnings. Workers can access step-by-step instructions for potentially dangerous repair jobs on expensive equipment, signing off on each step as they go.
  • A warehouse worker can reference a list of the items they need, see the location highlighted, and scan those items to confirm they’re correct as each one is collected. Errors in the pick and pack process can be very expensive to correct and this technology has the potential to eradicate them.
  • A retail worker can access a planogram to see the correct store layout, check on-shelf availability, and provide customers with information on other SKUs, the benefits of specific products, or even review ratings.
Augmate retail planogram

“Adoption of smart eyewear gives companies a competitive advantage,” Pete explains, “There’s upward of 30 percent time on task efficiency when information is within your field of view, if you don’t need to reference a paper based manual, laptop, or some other system you’re going to be quicker.”

When we took a look at the future of augmented reality apps a few months ago we saw the potential for mechanics to diagnose and repair cars. We also discussed the potential implications for retail where inventory and planogram management could lead to the establishment of systems that consumers might tap into down the line. Augmate is betting that eyewear is the right platform to deliver that kind of vision.

Building a bridge

The company is currently working with seven different digital eyewear manufacturers. Augmate has employed various devices including Google Glass, Vuzix M100, and Epson Moverio. Pete explains that they are “device agnostic”, though the common platform tends to be Android.

“Hardware solves half a problem, software solves the other half, together we can go to market.”

Leads may come in from the hardware companies, but Augmate is there to consult, offer advice, and create a solution that brings all the elements together, linking the customer’s database, existing systems, and apps to the eyewear.

Augmate warehouse picking

“We do what’s practical and useful. We do less AR (augmented reality), putting virtual information on a physical world object, because that user experience isn’t the best. We do workflow screens that are anchored to your field of view, so any direction you look, you see that screen, because we’re looking for the shortest amount of time the worker needs to complete a task,” Pete explains, “let’s just get them the information they need in order to do the job.”

The process is top-down and bottom-up. They may figure out the expected return on investment and the right use case with management, but they take direction from the end user to ensure the solution makes their job easier. A theory about the benefit in terms of efficiency is presented and then the pilot study provides practical proof.

“The inherent benefits are there for the enterprise, this is a piece of equipment that saves time and money. A worker puts on boots, a utility belt, a hard hat, eyewear is another tool to help them do their job,” Pete suggests.

What about safety and privacy?

Issues surrounding safety and privacy have been raised for smart eyewear in the consumer space. Detractors are concerned about people wearing always-on cameras and they see potential for distraction that could prove dangerous, but it could also work the other way.

“If you’re climbing a utility pole to work on electrical wires or a transformer, digital eyewear makes a lot of sense,” says Pete, “you could make the argument that potentially we have the ability to alert people and make the environment safer.”

Smart eyewear could highlight potentially hazardous things in your vicinity. It could warn workers about the weight of a package, so they don’t try to pick up something that’s too heavy. It could prompt them to don protective gear in loud environments. Precise instructions could even save lives in industries like energy where dangerous scenarios are not uncommon.

Augmate manufacturing malfunction

The privacy issue is another matter. It’s easy to see the business value if a worker in a million square foot warehouse can share their field of view with their manager to highlight an issue, instead of making them walk 20 minutes across the floor to get there, but it needs to be handled carefully. Not everyone will find the idea of an employer being able to survey their point of view appealing.

Other barriers to overcome

“Really you just want the technology to disappear and just have the information,” says Pete, but we aren’t there yet.

The technology is improving fast. Aesthetically smart eyewear that looks like a normal pair of glasses is not far away. Advances in camera technology and reductions in power consumption will offer tangible benefits in the near future. The biggest limiting factor right now in the technology is battery life and Augmate is stuck with large, body-worn battery packs, with around eight times the capacity of a typical smartphone battery.

Navigation is another issue. Eyewear can work with voice commands, gestures, even eye-tracking, but there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. A loud environment won’t work with voice controls, gloves may interfere with gestures, different workplaces will present different problems, but there’s always a way to make it work. Other wearables like smartwatches could even provide a control solution in some scenarios.

Right now Pete is more concerned about educating companies on the potential and kick-starting the market. Unlike the mobile revolution, the compelling consumer USPs for wearable technology are not yet clear, but the potential for business is coming into sharp focus.

“A lot of enterprises missed out on mobile, wearable computing is a second chance.”

Pete’s work with Augmate and his AR Glasses group has led to invitations to talk at various conferences. Fortune 500 companies with strategy and innovation teams designed to evaluate emerging technology are knocking on the door, but he’s quick to point out that this is something that small businesses can benefit from too. The biggest challenge for Augmate could be servicing the demand.

“I’d love for five, six, seven companies to come into the space and start doing this, it would make the market and industry move quicker,” says Pete, “We welcome the competition, there’s enough pie for everyone as far the opportunity goes.”

Mobile

Rekindled yet again, Nokia’s next-gen phones offer more than just nostalgia

HMD Global, a startup that designs and builds Nokia Android smartphones, wants to put the Nokia brand name back “where it belongs.” It helps that it’s made up of ex-Nokia employees. We go behind the scenes to see how HMD formed.
Product Review

Gate’s Smart Lock is locked and loaded but ultimately lacks important basics

In a world of video cameras and doorbells comes the Gate Smart Lock, a lock with a video camera embedded. It’s a great idea, but lacks some crucial functionality to make it a top-notch product.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: heat-powered watches, phone cases with reflexes

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Smart Home

Here are the craziest things that work with Amazon Alexa at CES 2019

CES 2019 is the hotbed for the products that are going to revolutionize your life in the near future. In the meantime, here's a bunch of weird devices that talk to Amazon Alexa that you probably won't buy.
Smart Home

Slip on Soma’s smart bra and you may discover you’ve been wearing the wrong size

You might think you know your bra size, but it’s probably wrong. Instead of a tape measure, Soma wants you to try on its Somainnofit smart bra, which takes measurements at four points and has an app that recommends better-fitting bras.
Wearables

One night with this sensor on your head could change your sleep forever

Get past the fact you’ll be in bed with a sensor on your forehead, and the Beddr SleepTuner may be the first step in curing your sleep problems and improving your overall health.
Mobile

The best CES 2019 health gadgets combat stress, pain, and more

We can all use some help with our health and CES 2019 was packed with intriguing devices designed to combat pain and stress, help you monitor blood pressure, reduce tinnitus, and care for the sick or elderly.
News

Digital Trends Top Tech of CES 2019 Award Winners

5G. A.I. Voice assistants. Metaverse. Yes, metaverse. CES 2019 slathered on the buzzwords thick and heavy, but beneath the breathless hype and bluster, there were amazing products to back it up, too. Except metaverse. C’mon Nissan, you…
Mobile

You'll soon be able to pay for goods with the Motiv smart ring

Remember Motiv's activity tracking smart ring? It's back with a raft of new features that adds biometric identification and token authentication, all on a device that fits on your finger.
Product Review

Mobvoi beefs up the battery on its affordable Ticwatch E2 and S2 Wear OS watches

Mobvoi is known to offer excellent, low-priced Wear OS smartwatches. At CES 2019, the company unveiled new entries into its Express and Sport range -- the Ticwatch E2 and Ticwatch S2.
Wearables

Think this smartwatch doesn’t have a screen? Think again

This looks like a regular chronograph watch, but it holds a secret: It's really a smartwatch and even has a hidden screen, which is revealed only when you need it. We took a closer look at CES 2019.
Product Review

Garmin’s 4G LTE VivoActive 3 keeps you safe when you’re out on the trails

Garmin takes its already great VivoActive 3 Music fitness smartwatch and adds a 4G LTE connection, courtesy of Verizon. The watch now has streaming music, independent GPS, and best of all, SMS support and various safety features. We’ve…
Deals

Before buying a Fitbit or Apple Watch, check out these fitness trackers under $50

Fitbit and Apple Watch are top of the line when it comes to fitness trackers but if you want to save, we have alternatives. If 2019 is the year you keep track of your health and budget your expenses, then take a look at these fitness…