Consumers are consistently bombarded with new technology that promises to make modern life that bit easier, or just a bit more fun.
While the billion pound gaming industry is saturated with shiny new devices and addictive software applications, savvy tech developers are also looking at ways to deliver products that are more attractive to business users.
Google Glass spectacles incorporating a computer display and a voice activated camera received a lukewarm reception on the consumer market. This led Google to focus its efforts on developing the product as a business tool. But the company is not alone in moving its focus away from consumers. Smart glasses manufacturers like ODG and Vuzix have also homed in on the opportunities to market their products as more than just mobile entertainment devices.
Software developer AMA has worked with Google, ODG and Vuzix to create a software product that is strictly geared to work applications. The company started out developing gaming content, but soon realised that the smart glasses platform was better suited to other sectors. AMA’s response to this shift in the market led to the development of Xpert Eye. The software enables smart glasses wearers to share their vision and interact with someone remotely and in real time.
The software was initially used for medical applications, allowing doctors to offer guidance to colleagues working remotely. AMA UK business developer Etienne Guillemot says that the success of the software’s “telemedicine” application showed there were lots of other possible applications in different sectors.
“For the construction industry, we have heard a lot about the certification process and how this takes a lot of time. If you have the glasses on a construction site or in the field in general, anyone can connect from afar to see what’s happening,” he explains.
“Also, if you only have a few experts for any given case, you can have one sitting at the desk and connecting to the on-site technicians to help them individually. Through this way of working, the expertise can be used a lot more efficiently on a project. It’s no longer necessary to factor in travelling time etcetera. It is also useful for training purposes.”
The software could also help combat the industry’s oft-discussed skills shortage by making it easier for older and less mobile employees to remain involved with projects. “With experts getting older, companies can retain older staff who used to be in the field all of the time. At the moment we’re losing this expertise. They can contribute their knowledge on a practical level, while being seated behind a desk,” says Guillemot.
The Xpert Eye software can be controlled by an on-site technician using the buttons on the smart glasses, or remotely by the person “behind a desk”. Using a laptop, tablet or desktop computer, the remote user can view everything the on-site technician can see.
It is not necessary for the remote user to download any compatible software, instead they are provided with a secure web link and login details that allow them to access the on-site user’s smart glasses. The hardware also allows both users to speak to each other. But how practical is this feature in heavy noise environments, like a busy construction site?
“It can absolutely be difficult to hear each other, much like using a mobile phone,” admits Guillemot. “So we have created a text feature which allows the users to send specific details via the “chat box” feature. It’s not as easy as just talking to each other, but you can still communicate effectively.”
The exciting opportunities offered by the Xpert Eye solution for the construction industry are somewhat hampered by the hardware when the issue of on-site safety is raised. Neither Google nor ODG currently offers an eyewear safety product that can be used in conjunction with the smart glasses hardware. However, Guillemot says that Vuzix has created a safety product that can clip onto its smart glasses device, allowing the user to wear the hardware with safety glasses. Hopefully the Google and ODG products will soon follow suit.
AMA allows companies to test the three different smart glasses options before selecting the hardware product to ensure they choose the best fit for their business.
Guillemot adds that AMA has a good relationship with all three hardware developers, so there is scope to feed back possible improvements that could help make the smart glasses even more accessible for the construction industry in the future.
As it stands, a possible barrier to ease of use for on-site construction workers is the need for a cable connection to an Android mobile device. Guillemot says that unlike other similar products on the market, the Xpert Eye software can only be used with a separate processing unit, which boosts the smart glasses’ capacity.
“We connect the glasses to a phone or a laptop with a wire, which allows us to have a much bigger processing power. This gives us a better quality and reliability than our competitors. It also allows us to encrypt data. Using the mobile device also allows us to provide a longer battery life,” he says.
Guillemot argues that far from being a hindrance, the cable connection offers major benefits.
“Some of our competitors offer a wireless version, but they don’t have the same level of processing power, quality and battery life. It’s not super sexy to connect using the cable, but it allows us to offer a lot more possibilities and quality,” he says.
In terms of future enhancements for the Xpert Eye software, Guillemot remains rather coy. “Some developments we come up with and there are others that are in response to a client’s specific need,” he says. “I’m not allowed to share what’s on the roadmap for the short term, but there will be some exciting announcements in the New Year.”