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Podcast: Edge wearables and collaboration cloud combine for on-demand field intelligence

Find out how wearable devices are giving industrial workers safe and easy access to the best intelligence available—where and when they need it.

[Editor's note: This podcast was originally published on Feb. 22, 2019.]

Whether on an oil rig or in an automotive shop, being able to quickly diagnose and solve problems in the field is critical, as downtime and delays often come with a high price tag.

That’s where wearable devices paired with cloud-based collaboration technology such as Hewlett Packard Enterprise's MyRoom are changing the game.

Combining easy, hands-free access and instant expertise at the industrial edge, such solutions bring the power of artificial intelligence and interactive collaboration directly to the technicians maintaining and repairing machinery and equipment out in the field. This functionality not only reduces downtime and makes operations safer and more efficient but also enables organizations to create a valuable knowledge base.

Listen to this podcast with guests John “JT” Thurgood and Jan Josephson of RealWear to learn how wearable multimedia devices are making it possible for industrial workers to easily access and interact with the best intelligence for their use case.

Dana Gardner: Hello, and welcome to the next edition of the BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer podcast series. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host and moderator for this ongoing discussion on digital transformation success stories.

Our next industrial-edge innovation use case examines how RealWear Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise MyRoom combine to provide workers in harsh conditions ease in accessing and interacting with the best intelligence. We’ll now learn how a hands-free, voice-activated, and multimedia wearable computer solves the last few feet issue for delivering a business’s best data and visual assets to some of its most critical on-site workers.

Here to describe the new high-water mark for wearable augmented collaboration technologies are Jan Josephson, sales director for EMEA at RealWear. Welcome to BriefingsDirect, Jan.

Jan Josephson: Thank you, very much. I’m happy to be here.

Gardner: We’re also joined by John “JT” Thurgood, director of sales for U.K., Ireland, and Benelux at RealWear. Welcome, JT.

JT Thurgood: Thank you, Dana, it’s good to be here.

Gardner: A variety of technologies have come together to create the RealWear solution. Tell us why nowadays a hands-free, wearable computer needs to support multimedia and collaboration solutions to get the job done.

Hands-free help

Thurgood: Over time, our industrial workers have moved through a digitization journey as they find the best ways to maintain and manage equipment in the field. They need a range of tools and data to do that. So, it could be an engineer wearing personal protective equipment in the field. He may be up on scaffolding. He typically needs a big bundle of paperwork, such as visual schematics, and all kinds of authorization documents. This is typically what an engineer takes into the field. What we are trying to do is make his life easier.

You can imagine it. An engineer gets to an industrial site, gets permission to be near the equipment, and has his schematics and drawings he takes into that often-harsh environment. His hands are full. He’s trying to balance and juggle everything while trying to work his way through that authorization process prior to actually getting on and doing the job—of being an engineer or a technician.

We take that need for physical documentation away from him and put it on an Android device, which is totally voice-controlled and hands-free. A gyroscope built into the device allows specific and appropriate access to all of those documents. He can even freeze at particular points in the document. He can refer to it visually by glancing down, because the screen is just below eyeline.

The information is available but not interfering from a safety perspective, and it’s not stopping him from doing his job. He has that screen access while working with his hands. The speakers in the unit also help guide him via verbal instructions through whatever the process may be, and he doesn’t even have to be looking at documentation.

What’s next for edge computing: How innovations at the edge are transforming manufacturing, entertainment, public safety and more.

He can follow work orders and processes. And, if he hits a brick wall—he gets to a problem where even after following work processes, going through documentation, and it this still doesn’t look right—what does he do? Well, he needs to phone a buddy, right? The way he does that is the visual remote guidance (VRG) MyRoom solution from HPE.

He gets the appropriate expert on the line, and that expert can be thousands of miles away. The expert can see what’s going on through the 16-megapixel camera on the RealWear device. And he can talk him through the problem, even in harsh conditions, because there are four noise-canceling microphones on the device. So, the expert can give detailed, real-time guidance as to how to solve the problem.

You know, Dana, typically that would take weeks of waiting for an expert to be available. The cost involved in getting the guy on site to go and resolve the issue is expensive. Now we are enabling that end technician to get any assistance he needs, once he is at the right place, at the right time.

Gardner: What was the impetus to create the RealWear HMT-1? Was there a specific use case or demand that spurred the design?

Military inspiration, enterprise adoption

Thurgood: Our chief technology officer, Dr. Chris Parkinson, was working in another organization that was focused on manufacturing military-grade screens. He saw an application opportunity for that in the enterprise environment.

And it now has wide applicability—whether it’s in the oil and gas industry, automotive, and construction. I’ve even had journalists wanting to use this device, like having a mobile cameraman.

He foresaw a wide range of use cases, and so worked with a team—with our chief executive officer, Andy Lowery—to pull together a device. That design is IP66-rated, it’s hardened, and it can be used in all weather, from -20C to 50C, to do all sorts of different jobs.

There was nothing in the marketplace that provides these capabilities. We now have more than 10,000 RealWear devices in the field in all sorts of vertical industries.

The impetus was that there was nothing in the marketplace that provides these capabilities. People today are using iPads and tablets to do their jobs, but their hands are full. You can’t do the rest of the tasks that you may need to do using your hands.

We now have more than 10,000 RealWear devices in the field in all sorts of industrial areas. I have named a few verticals, but we’re discovering new verticals day by day.

Gardner: Jan, what were some of the requirements that led you to collaborate with HPE MyRoom and VRG? Why was that such a good fit?

Josephson: There are a couple of things HPE does extremely well in this field. In these remote, expert applications in particular, HPE designed their applications really well from a user experience perspective.

At the end of the day, we have users out there and many of them are not necessarily engineers. So the UX side of an application is very important. You can’t have a lot of things clogging up your screen and making things too complicated. The interface has to be super-simple.

The other thing that is really important for our customers is the way HPE does compression with their networked applications. This is essential because many times—if you are out on an oil rig or in the middle of nowhere—you don’t have the luxury of Wi-Fi or a 4G network. You are in the field.

The HPE solution, due to the compression, enables very high-quality video even at very low bandwidth. This is very important for a lot of our customers. HPE is also taking their platform and enabling it to operate on premises. That is becoming important because of security requirements. Some of the large users want a complete solution inside of their firewall.

So it’s a very impressive piece of software, and we’re very happy that we are in this partnership with HPE MyRoom.

Gardner: In effect, it’s a cloud application now—but it can become a hybrid application, too.

Connected from the core to the edge

Thurgood: What’s really unique, too, is that HPE has now built-in object recognition within the tool set. So imagine you’re wearing the RealWear HMT-1, you’re looking at a pump, a gas filter, or some industrial object. The technology is now able to identify that object and provide you with the exact work orders and documentation related to it.

We’re now able to expand out from the historic use case of expert remote visual guidance support into doing so much more. HPE has really pushed the boundaries out on the solution.

Gardner: It’s a striking example of the newfound power of connecting a core cloud capability with an edge device, and with full interactivity. Ultimately, this model brings the power of artificial intelligence running on a data center to that edge, and so combines it with the best of human intelligence and dexterity. It’s the best of all worlds.

JT, how is this device going to spur new kinds of edge intelligence?

Thurgood: It’s another great question because 5G is now coming to bear as well as Wi-Fi. So, all of a sudden, almost no matter where you are, you can have devices that are always connected via broadband. The connectivity will become ubiquitous.

Now, what does that do? It means never having an offline device. All of the data, all of your Internet of Things analytics and augmented and assisted reality will all be made available to that remote user.

So, we are looking at the superhuman versions of engineers and technicians. Historically, you had a guy with paperwork. Now, if he’s always connected, he always has all the right documentation and is able to act and resolve tasks with all of the power and the assistance he needs. And it’s always available right now.

So, yes, we are going to see more intellectual value being moved down to the remote, edge user.

At RealWear, we see ourselves as a knowledge-transfer company. We want the user of this device to be the conduit through which you can feed all cloud-analyzed data. As time goes by, some of the applications will reside in the cloud as well as on the local device. For higher order analytics, there is a hell of a lot of churning of data required to provide the best end results. So, that’s our prediction.

Gardner: When you can extend the best intelligence to any expert around the world, it’s a very powerful concept.

For those listening to or reading this podcast, please describe the HMT-1 device. It’s fairly small and resides within a helmet.

Using your headwear

Thurgood: We have a horseshoe-shaped device with a screen out in front. Typically, it’s worn within a hat. Let’s imagine you have a standard cap on your head. It attaches to the cap with two clips on the sides. You then have a screen that protrudes from the front of the device that is held just below your eyeline. The camera is mounted on the side. It becomes a head-worn tablet computer.

It can be worn in hard hats, bump caps, normal baseball caps, or just with straps (and no hat). It performs regardless of the environment you are in—be that in wind, rain, gales, such as working out on an offshore oil and gas rig. Or if you are an automotive technician, working in a noisy garage, it simply complements the protective equipment you need to use in the field.

Gardner: When you can bring this level of intelligence and instant access of experts to the edge, wherever it is, you’re talking about new economics. These type of industrial use cases can often involve processes where downtime means huge amounts of money lost. Quickly intercepting a problem and solving it fast can make a huge difference.

Do you have examples that provide a sense of the qualitative and quantitative benefits when this is put to good use?

Thurgood: There are a number of examples. Take automotive to start with. If you have a problem with your vehicle today, you typically take it to a dealership. That dealer will try to resolve the issue as quickly as it can. Let’s say the dealership can’t. There is a fault on the car that needs some expert assistance. Today, the dealership phones the head office and says, “Hey, I need an expert to come down and join us. When can you join us?” And there is typically a long delay.

So, what does that mean? That means my vehicle is off the road. It means I have to have a replacement vehicle. And that expert has to come out from head office to spend time traveling to be on site to resolve the issue.

What can happen now using the RealWear device in conjunction with the HPE VRG MyRoom is that the technician contacts the expert engineer remotely and gets immediate feedback and assistance on resolving the fault. As you can imagine, the customer experience is vastly improved based on resolving the issue in minutes—and not hours, days, or even weeks.

Josephson: It’s a good example because everyone can relate to a car. Also, nowadays the car manufacturers are pushing a lot more technology into the cars. They are almost computers on wheels. When a car has a problem, chances are very slim you will have the skill-set needed in that local garage.

The whole automotive industry has a big challenge because they have all of these people in the field who need to learn a lot. Doing it the traditional way—of getting them all into a classroom for six weeks—just doesn’t cut it. So, it’s now all about incident-based, real-time learning.

Another benefit is that we can record everything in MyRoom. So if I have a session that solves a particular problem, I can take that recording and I have a value of one-to-many rather than one-to-one. I can begin building up my intellectual property, my FAQs, my better customer service. A whole range of values are being put in front here.

Gardner: You’re creating an archive, not just a spot solution. That archive can then be easily accessible at the right time and any place.

Josephson: Right.

Gardner: For those listeners wondering whether RealWear and VRG are applicable to their vertical industry or their particular problem set, what are a couple of key questions that they might ask themselves?

Shared know-how saves time and money

Thurgood: Do your technicians and engineers need to use their hands? Do they need to be hands-free? If so, you need a device like this. It’s voice-controlled; it’s mounted on your head.

Do they wear personal protectant equipment? Do they have to wear gloves? If so, it’s really difficult to use a stylus or poke the screen of a tablet. With RealWear, we provide a totally hands-free, eyes-forward, very safe deployment of knowledge-transfer technology in the field.

If you need your hands free in the field or if you’re working outdoors, up on towers and so on, it’s a good use of the device.

Josephson: Also, if your business includes field engineers that travel, do you have many traveling days where you had to go back because you forgot something or it wasn’t the right skill set on the first trip?

If, instead, you can always have someone available via the device to validate what we think is wrong and actually potentially fix it, I mean, it’s a huge savings. Fewer return or duplicate trips.

Gardner: I’m afraid we’ll have to leave it there. We have been exploring how RealWear and HPE MyRoom combine to provide workers in harsh conditions ease in accessing and interacting with the best intelligence.

And we have learned how a hands-free, voice-activated, and multimedia wearable computer is solving the last few feet issue for delivering a business’s best data and visual assets to some of its most critical on-site workers.

Please join me in thanking our guests, Jan Josephson, sales director for EMEA at RealWear, and JT, director of sales for U.K., Ireland, and Benelux at RealWear, which is based in Vancouver, Washington.

Thurgood: Anytime, Dana. Thank you, very much.

Gardner: And a big thank you to our audience as well for joining this BriefingsDirect Voice of the Customer digital transformation success story. I’m Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, your host for this ongoing series of Hewlett Packard Enterprise-sponsored interviews.

Thanks again for listening. Please pass this on to your IT community, and do come back next time.

When the edge is remote, outside, or dangerous: Lessons for leaders 

  • Hands-free, voice-controlled edge technology, integrated with personal protection equipment, can help industrial workers operate in potentially dangerous situations more safely and effectively.
  • Benefits also include cost savings: Workers at industrial or construction sites can access digitized resources and collaborate with remote experts, potentially reducing travel costs.
  • Cloud technology enhances the portability of these edge systems: They can operate from anywhere, at any time. 

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.