So now that I’ve had a chance to see Google Glass, and gone out on a limb posting predictions about the future of wearable computing, which sector do I see wearable computing making a huge impact where it doesn’t now?
Construction workers. These are highly skilled and highly paid workers who need to keep both hands free and who need ready access to all sorts of tools – they need brain tools just as much and in my opinion, they aren’t getting them fast enough.
On my smartphone I have an app that lets me take measurements of distant buildings using my GPS location, accelerometers, video camera and the like. A construction worker can certainly bring an iPhone on site and use it for those purposes, but nobody would argue that an iPhone is a rugged piece of construction equipment.
Clearly Google Glass could help here, but it’s the functionality that’s needed and not the current form. Google Glass is also too delicate, and it’s not specialized enough for construction workers. It wouldn’t last a day in the field. The battery life alone make it a bit moot for a 12+ hour a day profession.
But construction workers are already required to wear a specific piece of functional clothing and that’s a helmet. The display HUD portion of GLASS is needed, but the helmet could provide a perfect platform for wireless antennas, solar power collectors, a micro weather station, and all kinds of other useful equipment.
But especially batteries. Enough batteries to make the smart helmet a very practical idea. Construction helmets need to meet objective standards in order to comply with regulations, and that means they need to weigh a certain amount no matter how you cut it. It’s also a substantial weight when compared to rechargeable batteries and with some clever material science you could probably engineer batteries into a construction helmet that met regulations without even increasing the current weights by much.
And safety glasses would make a dandy display for it. A laser sight onboard would allow the kind of measurement application I mentioned earlier to become very precise, and although it would not replace real surveyors with real surveying equipment, it would allow most workers to become information sources feeding ad-hoc measurement data into the backend scheduling and planning systems of the construction company running the project. Other devices like sonar range finders could be added to make them even more flexible.
And cost will certainly be a factor, but the benefits are real and the cost is incremental given that many of the components of an integrated wearable construction workers suit are already there for safety reasons and already have to meet standards that a cheap T-Shirt would never need to meet.
Video footage and photos, and even sound recordings could be quickly shared among the people who need them when they need them, and ad hoc meetings to deal with issues as they arise could be held via video conferencing to keep projects running smoothly.
The workers equipment could eventually be wired to provide any necessary status and operating information via the smart helmet. A torque wrench could not only display the torque reading being applied to a lug nut, the display could also show what the required torque was for the job, and maybe allow reporting and logging that the nut had been tightened for compliance purposes. An alert could tell the worker that the nut had been tightened a certain number of times and was due for replacement.
A network of Bluetooth Low Energy sensors around the construction site could track workers movements for safety and logistical purposes. Hands free multi band communication devices in the helmet could tie in with multiple communications and data systems on a job site. The helmet could send out a help squawk if it detects a blow to the head and the safety glasses could monitor vitals to detect if the worker is injured.
Different types of workers could accompany the smart helmet with different types of specialized uniforms. A welders specialty could include a smart welders visor attachment that automatically switched an LCD filter on in the visor when the welder started arc welding, and maybe a thermal imaging camera overlay so they could judge weld quality. A site foreman would have a focus on communication and logistics.
A crane operator could have an Oculus Rift type of visor that allowed them to rotate around an augmented view of the cranes payload synthesized from camera views and other data even if they couldn’t see where the payload was directly.
And with Bluetooth Low Energy beacons becoming a cheap and practical reality, your basic carpenter would finally be able to answer the age old question, where did I leave my @#%$%$ hammer!