How Smart Glasses Are Good for Business

December 5, 2013 by Uta Spinger

Jörg Rett von SAP Research. (Foto: SAP)

“The real crux of the matter is how to show users exactly the data they require in a particular situation,” says Jörg Rett, a senior researcher at SAP. (Photo: SAP) Google Glass has triggered a new wave of hype and turned the spotlight back onto the topic of augmented reality. Why now?

Jörg Rett: Google Glass is a device that weighs next to nothing, runs on a long-lasting rechargeable battery, and is fitted with a camera and sensor that let the wearer perceive movement in 3D. The device consists of a wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display that shows useful, context-specific data right in front of the wearer’s eyes.  As such, Google has set a standard for today’s smart glasses.

I’ve got a smartphone. Why do I need smart glasses?

Rett: When you use a smartphone, you’re constantly switching between looking down at your display and up again into your environment. That can be very disruptive. For example, if my job involves having both hands free to carry or hold onto something, then smart glasses make perfect sense. And the display in front of my eyes “augments” what I’m seeing in reality with additional, useful information that will help me complete my task, or gives me directions to a specific destination without me having to look down at my smartphone display all the time.

Not just for nerds: numerous business uses for smart glasses

Isn’t that kind of technology just for nerds? Are there business scenarios for smart glasses?

Rett: One classic scenario is maintenance and service: imagine that a technician needs to carry out a service, change a pump, and repair or inspect a technical device.  Thanks to augmented reality technology, smart glasses could use GPS data to guide the technician to the right location, by giving instructions such as “turn right” or “climb the ladder”, for example. Once the technician has located the pump, the smart glasses could provide relevant information about it.

Next page: More on SAP augmented reality solutions

Or imagine the scenario in a huge Amazon warehouse: Smart glasses can help personnel pick the correct items. Augmented reality can also help when it comes to onboarding temporary personnel. Here, smart glasses can speed up the process of navigating to and locating goods.

Augmented reality can improve quality too. In the automotive industry, faulty assembly can lead to costly vehicle recalls. SAP addressed this issue back in 2008 in the SiWear project. We set up a scenario at Daimler AG in Germany where pickers wore a headset to direct them to the correct parts for assembling particular types of engines.  A variant of this still exists as a prototype in the SAP Future Retail Center.

Watch the video on the SiWear project:


SAP augmented reality solutions

Which augmented reality solutions does SAP already offer?

Rett: For customers who need 3D graphical representations of, say, an engine or a production plant, we offer SAP Visual Enterprise. This software lets you visualize everything from a tiny microchip to an entire city.   SAP specialists are also currently working on two augmented reality prototypes: a health care application that displays patients’ medical records for physicians on smart glasses as they complete their hospital rounds and that also lets them record information in text or image form. This scenario could be linked to the SAP Electronic Medical Records application.

Next page: More examples of smart glasses in use

A second prototype is being created for warehouse picking in combination with SAP Extended Warehouse Management. In this scenario, warehouse pickers use their smart glasses to scan bar codes on goods by directing their gaze at the packaging. This means that they no longer need a paper packing list to pick an order. Voice messages they receive through an earpiece direct the pickers from shelf to shelf. When they arrive at the correct location, the voice tells them how many of which product to pick. Moreover, the smart glasses’ display warns them if their picking cart is on collision course with a co-worker’s cart.

Moving on to the soccer training ground, a prototype has also been developed at top Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim which, with the help of SAP HANA, analyses the data collected from sensors attached to players’ bodies and passes the information to team coaches who are equipped with Google Glass devices. Data such as a player’s acceleration appears in the coach’s field of vision, allowing him to maintain eye contact with the player while giving hand instructions.

Smart glasses and data privacy

What obstacles still stand in the way of making this technology an everyday reality?

Rett: For one thing, people are currently very concerned about data privacy. For companies where the technology is used in a defined internal area, I don’t think there’s that much of a problem. Still, the question remains about how to deal with the fact that anyone and anything can be filmed with smart glasses and that the software is available to analyze images and data that are stored on them. For data security reasons, SAP wants to use SAP Cloud and thus be able to protect customers’ data.

Next page: How SAP can provide business data intelligently

But the real crux of the matter is how to show users exactly the data they require in a particular situation – in a format that suits their individual needs. Do I play a short film, display an icon, or project a text onto the smart glasses’ display? This is perhaps the greatest challenge of all; because if we provide too much information, users will feel overwhelmed. If we provide too little information, then the glasses are no help, either. Our task is therefore to transform “data glasses” into truly “smart glasses”.

How can SAP provide business data intelligently?

Rett: On the one hand, we can of course combine our applications and the SAP HANA platform to provide relevant business data to smart glasses from SAP systems. On the other hand, data for smart glasses also comes from interactive, intelligent environments (the Internet of Things) with production facilities fitted with sensors that receive and transmit signals. In the same way, SAP could develop a user-centric context engine in the SAP Cloud that captures data from the environment and intelligently passes it on to a smart glasses application based on the situation and the context. Our warehouse employee, for example, would certainly find it helpful to receive a warning not to take a turn to the right because that particular route is currently blocked by ten other people.  This information would come from a global system that not only understands the context in which the smart glasses wearer is working, but also knows the context in which the other 100 employees are going about their duties in the warehouse.

Smart glasses could also utilize predictive analytics

Similarly, the service technician could scan the machines on a customer’s production line and run a database comparison.  That would not only provide information about broken components, but would also warn if a part is likely to break sometime soon. The link with SAP Predictive Analysis makes this possible. A 3D visualization of the machine shows how the part is to be repaired, and it shows a different view depending on where the user is standing.


Watch some of our videos of augmented reality scenarios:

Assembling furniture made easy thanks to 3D visualization

Pitch analysis at TSG Hoffenheim

Smart glasses in the warehouse

SiWear project at Daimler

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