Israel has just scored a string of firsts in the smart glasses sector. Mekorot, Israel’s water company, is the first firm in the world to equip a large number of its field workers with smart glasses – Epson’s Moverio BT-200 devices. It’s also the first to be deploying an app to provide assistance and conduct monitoring of the workers. They will wear the smart glasses to receive specific guidance and instruction when they repair high-tension electricity installations at Mekorot facilities.
And yet another Israeli first — the app that Mekorot workers will be using for field-service assistance developed by FieldBit, an Israeli start-up – the first such app to be used commercially.
While Google, maker of Google Glass, is probably the best-known player in the smart glasses space, it’s not the only company developing this technology. Along with Google and Epson, there are two other smart glass makers that have products on the market — Vuzix and Lumus, the latter also an Israeli start-up. Smart glasses contain a collection of sensors and imaging components that enable users to have a virtual computer right in front of their faces at all times. Via voice commands, users can call up a stream of e-mail or Twitter posts, and the stream is displayed on their glasses screen as they go about their daily business. They can also watch YouTube videos or any other web content, as well as make video phone calls, get directions, call up maps, and much more.
One of the most promising uses of smart glasses is to assist people with tasks as they are performing them. A driver who has a tire blowout or breaks down on the highway, for example, could call up a YouTube video that would show them exactly how to change the tire or perform a minor engine repair, with the glasses screen playing as they work, allowing them to use both hands to do the work.
That’s the idea behind Mekorot’s adoption of the FieldBit app, said FieldBit CEO Evyatar Meron. “Workers will be able to perform complicated, high-risk tasks” — in this case, repairing and maintaining high-tension electrical circuits at Mekorot’s water processing facilities around Israel. “Ordinarily, workers would perform tasks based on memory, even if they had access to tablets or laptops, because they need both hands to work. And they don’t always remember what they need to do,” he said.
“Using our app and the Moverio glasses, we can bring instructions and assistance directly to the workers where they are and when they need the information,” said Meron. The Moverio BT-200, said Meron, is ideal for field work because it weighs only 88 grams and comes equipped with all the necessary networking technology to ensure that workers can stay in touch with the people who sent them out on a job.
Another advantage of using smart glasses for field work is the ability to record the workers’ experiences. “Often a situation comes up that is not in a company’s task database, but would be worthwhile to get more information on,” said Meron. Currently, details on incidents are recorded on paper or tablet by workers only after the incident – and here, too, workers could forget important details. If workers can receive video and information using smart glasses, a camera attached to the device could upload video back to headquarters, giving managers new and better insight about what the problem actually was and how it was fixed.
Another advantage of smart glasses is the time workers save on tasks. “Because there has been no massive field deployment, the only data we have on how much time workers save by having the information beamed directly to their eyes, alleviating the need to search manuals or stop what they are doing to make a phone call, are based on university research,” Meron explained. Those studies show workers performing tasks 15%-20% faster using smart glasses, but Meron said that he expects even greater savings for Mekorot. “Those studies are usually conducted using heavy helmets and backpack equipment to record experiences, and using Moverios makes for a completely different kind of experience. We will be watching the Mekorot workers closely for a better idea of just how beneficial smart glasses can be for field work.”
FieldBit developed the app specifically for the Moverio because it’s the product Mekorot decided to use. “We had a ‘showdown’ of all the smart glasses – those made by Google, Vuzix, Lumus, and the Moverio – and checked the workers’ comfort level, ability to perform tasks, and other parameters.” FieldBit has developed apps for Vusix and Google Glass devices as well.
“The Moverio was chosen as the best device for their tasks by the workers,” said Meron. What likely put the Moverio over the top, Espon said, was its ability to interpose videos or text on a transparent background, meaning that users can see directly behind what is being shown to them. Moverio is the only one of the smart glasses on the market that uses this see-through screen technology. The others use see-side tech, requiring the user to look “around” the image or text being displayed.
See-through opens up all sorts of possibilities, Epson said. Introducing the Moverio in Israel earlier this year, the company announced that it was working with Israeli start-ups on the device itself, as well as augmented reality apps that can be used with it. Portions of the software used on the Moverio were developed in Israel, said Valerie Riffaud-Cangelos, Epson Europe’s executive vice-president in charge of marketing the device, in an interview.
While the device can do everything Google Glass can, she said, Epson was really gearing the Moverio for use with augmented reality apps. “For example, you could have an app where a person would see an overlay of how to change a tire while they are actually doing it. The user would focus the glasses on the bolts or the jack, and be shown a pattern of how to use them. They could then follow the pattern being displayed, thus saving them time, effort, and money.”
Overlaying augmented reality apps on the glasses means that a worker sees a repair process for a specific component of an air conditioning unit, for example, popping up when they look at the damaged component, said Meron. “It’s just a matter of time before these apps start coming into popular use. The field service market – which includes repair people of all kinds, salespeople, technicians, programmers, and many others – is worth at least $15 billion and is constantly growing, but has been ignored by programmers until now. Using glasses like the Moverio, repairs and field work will become much easier and economical. We are developing other apps like this for other companies, and as word gets out about what we’ve done with Mekorot and Epson, I am sure we will be speaking to a lot more potential customers in the coming months.”