An employee wears a pair of Hololens 3D glasses while holding gear wheels for an automatic automobile transmission system

An employee wears a pair of HoloLens 3D glasses while holding gear wheels for an automatic transmission system at a factory in Germany in March, 2018. Tech pundits say smart eyewear could one day replace phones, computer screens and videos. (Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Innovation | Technology

Businesses look to smart eyewear for real-time instruction and remote collaboration 

Tech pundits say these devices could one day replace phones, computer screens and videos

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Smartphones, the cloud, and digital assistants have made computing highly mobile and ubiquitous. So much so that an unnamed Internet philosopher recently wrote, “Life is what happens while you’re looking at your smartphone.” 

But the latest mobile technology promises to get people gazing at the world again, albeit through smart eyewear that seeks to merge the digital world with the physical. Tech pundits say these devices could one day replace phones, computer screens and videos. 

Although the technology is still in its infancy, a recent entry on the scene, Intel’s Vaunt smart glasses, received kudos from reviewers for looking and feeling just like eyeglasses, even as they project a stream of data on your retina. (The device has since been dropped as Intel announced it was shutting its wearable division, which launched in 2013.) Other products under development include the Meta 2 by Meta; Microsoft’s HoloLens and Magic Leap

“For now, the market for smart eyewear is really small,” says Jitesh Ubrani, senior research analyst with technology market research firm International Data Corporation (IDC). Businesses have largely focused on situations where wearers need to keep their hands free, yet still have access to information. 

But as the glasses become more common and less conspicuous, businesses and government will have to be conscious of the unique security concerns they raise, says Ubrani. “In many ways, smart glasses capture more data because they track exactly what you’re looking at,” he says, so industrial espionage becomes an issue, and employees could be filmed without their knowledge. 

Smart glasses are also Internet-enabled, making the data they collect vulnerable to hackers, says Ubrani. The upshot: In order to overcome security concerns, manufacturers will have “to build in robust security features and those features must be easily managed by IT departments to meet their specific security requirements,” he says. 

The business case for smart eyewear 

Most of the buzz around smart eyewear has been centred on consumer-related apps and games. But a number of businesses, from manufacturing to mining, are adapting the wearable technology to equip employees with hands-free, real-time instruction and improve remote collaboration. 

In fact, a 2016 Forrester Research report predicts 14.4 million U.S. workers will wear smart glasses by 2025. Here’s just a sampling of the applications. 

Hands-free instruction and training: Boeing employees use Augmented Reality glasses when manually constructing complex wire harnesses for aircraft. Workers can now see the assembly guide in front of them as they work, reducing production time for the harnesses by 25 per cent and cutting error rates by half. 

Remote collaboration: Experts can consult remotely in a see-what-I-see system that has applications for field service check-ups, engineering support and telemedicine. 

Improve logistics: In warehouses, for example, smart glasses can boost productivity, eliminating the need to carry handheld scanners or consult written documents.