November 29, 2021

Article
4 min

Smart Glasses Are (Almost) Ready for Prime Time

After years of hype, augmented reality solutions are about to seize the limelight.

Rocky Grubb

We’ve been hearing about the promise of videophones since at least the 1980s. But it wasn’t until the 2010s that the technologies — including bandwidth and devices — were really capable of delivering on that promise. And it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that video collaboration became a must-have for virtually every business. 

Many technologies follow this adoption curve: a slow trickle of hype that sometimes lasts for years (think of the personal computer, for instance), followed by a sudden frenzy in the marketplace. 

For many years, we’ve been in that slow-trickle phase with augmented reality and virtual reality. I can’t tell you exactly what’s going to kick off the sudden frenzy phase, but I can tell you that the technology is ready. All it will take is for industries to identify the high-value use cases that will drive widespread adoption.

Smart Glasses Present AR Potential for Five Industry Sectors

In particular, AR solutions such as smart glasses feel poised to transform these five sectors in the coming years:

Entertainment: If this seems like a bit of an obvious arena for AR and VR, it’s also a bit of a wild card. Although consumer VR devices have now been widely available for several years, they remain something of a novelty, even for seemingly natural audiences, such as avid gamers. It will be interesting to see whether smart glasses (which are less isolating than fully immersive VR headsets) penetrate this market. 

Healthcare: In healthcare, smart glasses have the potential to enable hands-free documentation, support telemedicine, offer patients rapid access to second opinions (either from human colleagues or artificial intelligence algorithms), enhance training and enable live broadcasting of procedures for later training or assessment. In fact, tools such as Vuzix smart glasses have already been used to assist with surgeries such as knee replacements. 

Contact Centers: Today, contact centers are littered with expensive displays that typically are only used to transmit simple text-based information to service representatives. I don’t think we’re very far away from seeing these screens replaced by wearable devices like smart glasses. Microphones and cameras have gotten small and powerful enough that smart glasses could effectively serve as an agent’s phone, headset, monitor and videoconferencing hardware.  

Manufacturing: Smart glasses can help improve accuracy in the manufacturing process by delivering checklists and instructions directly to workers’ field of vision. For newer employees, AR can be especially helpful, as smart glasses can provide clear text with illustrations, or even video instructions. Also, smart glasses allow workers to keep their hands free, giving them the ability to consult their device for information without limiting their ability to complete the physical tasks required by their jobs. 

Security and Public Safety: Already, the military is using flip-down screens to deliver real-time information to soldiers in the field. It’s easy to see this AR use case expanding to other public safety and security roles in the near future. For instance, imagine a firefighter at the scene of a burning building receiving real-time, aerial video of the structure, or police officers getting security camera footage delivered straight to their smart glasses, giving them additional context as they race to the scene of a crime. 

To be sure, there will be some road bumps along the path to widespread AR adoption. The cultural hurdles are obvious, and organizations will want to see research showing whether 40 hours a week behind a set of smart glasses will have any unintended health consequences for their employees. But when AR hits the mainstream, it’s likely to feel like an all-at-once event. Business and IT leaders should think now about how to position themselves to pounce when the time comes.

Story by Rocky Grubb, who joined CDW in 2014 as a senior solution architect and is currently CDW’s solution architect team lead for the collaboration practice. He has significant experience, training and education in data, voice and video technologies as well as several telecommunications architectures.

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