Smart Glasses for the Warehouse

That actually work and help this time...
Bob Bova   |    
October 5, 2020

Smart Glasses for the Warehouse

Remember three years ago when Google Glasses were going to change everything, especially in the warehouse and for mobile inspection and MRO applications? There was an aggressive amount of coverage how smart glasses would change the warehouse and distribution center. So, what happened?

Hypothetically, a wearable heads up display (HUD) was touted as being able to do everything from just showing videos and images to driving intelligent route directing, scan barcodes, optimize visual fields, usher in vision picking and a whole host of other very cool what if scenarios. But it didn’t. The technology could not be easily integrated with applications to drive this visual technology. Without intelligent connectivity to use the wearables in combination with existing workflow applications, they were really just a very expensive what-if toy. But not anymore.

The New HUD

Zebra Technologies worked with Six15 Technologies to develop the enterprise-class HD4000 head-mounted display, a light, vision wearable that works with Zebra mobile handhelds and scanners. This allows it to be controlled by an intelligent device. This architecture allows applications to be driven by the device and VOICE enabled as well. The HUDs can be a critical part of voice automating warehouse applications by showing locations, part numbers, presenting images of parts, showing videos – all driven by voice commands.

Many warehouse professionals ask the same question, “How does that work with what I do today in my warehouse?” The evolution of HUD technology in the warehouse is happening so that the technology is actually a useful addition to existing warehouse workflows. Instead of just showing visual images displayed on the glasses, the new architecture from Zebra allows integration with multiple data input points, allowing for voice automation and scanning to drive the entire workflow process, on industry standard handheld technology such as Android.  Shared information or displayed content on the smart glasses coupled with voice delivers multimodal, hands-free, eyes-free automated workflows. In the past this may have been called vision picking, we think of this new level of multimodal voice and vision as voice automated vision picking.

One of the main goals for warehouse management and logistics professionals is to improve the order fulfillment process, allowing the picker to hear commands while seeing information easily in front of them on the glasses in their visual field. When integrated with existing optimized workflows, this combination of Android based technologies delivers efficiency, enhanced productivity and accuracy as achieved with voice automation combined with scanning. With the addition of the integrated smart glasses, information presented in the visual field in conjunction with spoken commands and verbal interactions streamlines existing processes, such as picking and other workflows in the DC. This combination of technologies takes voice automating workflows to a higher, multimodal level, integrating voice, vision and barcode scanning.

Optimizing Warehouse Staff

In the current hiring environment, it is difficult to both find and hold onto warehouse workers. The multimodal approach we are discussing provides a much faster, more effective way to train, retain, and keep your employees safe. Historically, training new employees requires taking your best pickers, or operations manager connected at the hip to do hands on picks, over and over again. This process can take weeks to get up to rate. Now, you take that workflow and voice enable the entire process (even adding a training mode) with the visual information displayed on the glasses. With the Zebra HD4000 you have visual and audio information directing users through the workflow so that they can come up to engineering standards as quickly as possible, with limited or no time from your other valuable team members. This integrated multimodal solution eliminates having your best picker out of commission to teach new team members, decreases training time to rate, resulting in measurable savings reducing training ramp up time for new and seasonal employees.

Improving Worker Safety

In addition to being compelling new technology, Zebra’s HD4000 with voice also adds a layer of safety for workers in these uncertain times. As well as being “Safety Glasses” for the eyes, due the hands free nature of voice automation, enabling a more touchless environment, this makes each team member safer allowing them some peace of mind allowing them to pay attention to the environment without needing to look at or touch a device. Combining this with a finger scanner, the process becomes even more hands free.

The device-based nature of this solution (no middleware or server is required for the voice automation) makes for flexible installations and ease of usability across the warehouse. No longer limited to just picking applications, this device-based visual and voice technology solution can also be used for put-away, receiving, shipping, replenishment, cycle count and more – and with any WMS, WCS application deployed in the warehouse on mobile devices. Additionally, smart glasses with voice automation can be used inside the warehouse and outside the four walls for applications such as mobile inspection and maintenance, fleets, field services, yard management and similar applications.

This mobile architecture for voice automated vision picking also delivers a scalability factor that traditional legacy systems cannot match. When rolling out to new employees, a new warehouse or additional applications, device-based technology solutions can deploy one user at a time, one shift at a time, or one warehouse at a time. No longer do warehouse managers have to switch over to an entire new system enterprise wide in one huge swoop. Being able to scale at the right pace provides control and an ease of implementation.

Automated Workflows with Vision & Voice

With the voice automation of the Zebra Technologies HD4000 and its integration with scanning, the promise from three years earlier to integrate useful visual technology into the warehouse has become a reality. This new reality was driven through the market professionals expressing the needs of a solution that could be integrated to optimize their existing workflows and operational goals. By providing this exact solution, Zebra has delivered on the promise.

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