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A Vision of Wearable Tech in the Workplace

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Wearable tech has been hot this year, with a lot of companies emerging as players in the wearable space. Everything from activity monitors to wearable cameras to smart watches have popped into the Internet of Things (IoT) market, some making more impact than others. And while the implications on the consumer market are clear, the enterprise market remains wide open and ripe for disruption.

There are some obvious use cases for wearables in the workplace like employee monitoring, health and safety monitoring, and access control. Hitachi, for example, has already introduced what looks like an elaborate employee ID badge embedded with sensors that track who employees talk to — as well as where and how actively. "A manager can monitor who speaks up at meetings and who spends more time at the coffee machine than their desk," Forbes reported this week.

More devices like Hitachi's will come along at their own pace and not really change the way businesses run.

The area that I expect wearables to have the largest impact and disruptive force is in helping to manage and augment our everyday interactions with both people and things.

Pervasive Sensors

Earlier this year the International Data Corporation (IDC) reported that wearables took a huge step forward over the past year and predicted shipment volumes will exceed 19 million units in 2014, more than tripling last year's sales. From there, the global market will swell to 111.9 million units in 2018, resulting in a compound annual growth rate of 78.4 percent.

For the record, additional IDC research found that Samsung, which has already unveiled multiple wearable computing devices, was identified as the most trusted brand for wearables, ahead of Apple, Sony and Google.

But it's more than a matter of trust. To get to the point where wearables can really take on this role in our everyday lives, we need to go beyond just the tech we wear or others wear. We need to reach a point where sensors are truly pervasive, so that every item that we interact with has a record of that interaction and offers us some enriched data for our environment.

As more devices in the workplace become connected and have embedded sensors, then the work environment will become increasingly data rich.

The reason the devices around us will need to have embedded sensors is simple. We just do not have the real estate on our body to wear a sensor to tell us everything we might want to know.

But if wearables are used to bridge the gap between everyday objects and the sensors other people wear, then we can extract far more data while minimizing the technology we actually have to wear — short of distributing the sensors.

Image going to a meeting with people who do you not know. As you walk into the room, your smart watch triggers a sensor in the doorway, which now lets everyone in the room know you have arrived. As a portfolio about you flashes in in front of their eyes, a quick introduction to each person in the room simultaneously scrolls inside your specially enabled eyeglasses.

Broader Use

Creating a data rich environment with wearable tech doesn’t have to be limited to people. Devices and objects in the physical world can also provide a useful stream of data that can be triggered or accessed from a wearable device like glasses with a display or alerts on a smart watch.

Imagine if your smart watch alerted you each time you passed the water cooler at work to help you stay hydrated … if your glasses could display the current level of toner in the printer just by looking at it or the ambient temperature of each room as you walk by. 

Whether you are working in an office or working as a technician that services other companies, this type of data enrichment could dramatically improve efficiency on the job and provide a competitive advantage in some cases. 

Entry to the Market

This approach really opens up two different avenues into the market. The first: producing the wearables themselves and putting those sensor-enabled devices on people and objects. Of course, getting all these devices to work together assumes some issues in the realm of standards have been worked out and agreed upon.

The second: To be one of the companies that develops apps to take advantage of this broad sensor interaction at the enterprise level. Again, this assumes that all of these devices will have an open API to let developers make apps for the devices and objects. And it is not just wishful thinking. It seems wearables are moving in that direction more quickly than IoT hardware is moving towards open standards at this point.

Ultimately wearable tech will have a large impact on the enterprise. That much is undeniable, even at this early stage.

The degree to which that impact will reach remains to be seen. Adoption of technology will be one driving factor, but more importantly, adoption of standards in the IoT and wearable space will dictate how pervasive this technology will become and the overall impact it will have on the workplace.  

The question now: How do you feel about this vision of future work?

About the Author

Dana Blouin is a Ph.D candidate and researcher at SIIT—Thammasat University in Bangkok, Thailand, where he is conducting research in the areas of the Internet of Things, wireless sensor networks and ubiquitous networking.

 
 
 
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