Wearable tech in the warehouse: three innovative use cases

It seems like the world can’t stop talking about IoT and wearable devices. They’ve been in the warehouse for a long time, starting with mobile barcode scanners and moving to smartphones and apps. The latest generation of devices aims to take things out of workers’ hands so they are freer to move and pick with ease.

Here are just three of those new options that are designed to improve operational effectiveness while also getting our inner-geeks a bit excited. Check out these options available today and a final thought on what we’ll be seeing next.

1. Smart glasses: Second glances but not second guesses

There are a wide range of smart glasses that are turning on augmented reality for warehouse picking and packing solutions. And no, there’s no Pokémon hidden in any of these, just smart computing backends that can scan barcodes, provide directions, and make it so that your order list is always in view.

It’s a smart application for wearables because the AR allows your warehouse techs to keep their hands free and it can automatically double check the items they are picking up. Some systems, like the SAP AR Warehouse Picker, also provide enough data for your system to do inventory level checks. Platforms are also combining voice recording to manage tasks, create notes, and send messages to managers.

2. Wearables that deserve a hand

Devices are always changing and what your team is learning today will likely have a new interface or even new hardware tomorrow. You could give up one concept entirely.

Innovation is coming to allow you to change these systems without burning up hours and revenue on training for each new device, platform, or integration.

Find new and innovative warehouse technology with this comprehensive WMS vendor directory

One model we expect to see used is the support wearable where a device is connected — via a direct cord or Bluetooth — and the worker uses the system the same regardless of which device is required.

Koamtac is a good example of this technology with its finger trigger gloves that support different barcode scanners. You can load one of the company’s barcode scanners into a glove and use a trigger in the index finger to activate the scanner.

In the near future, it isn’t unlikely that we’ll see barcode scanners in the glove itself that send raw information back to a nearby device to process. This will allow the glove to be used consistently when the platform or other device changes. It would ultimately reduce spend and training needs, while allowing your warehouse to adopt the latest technologies.

3. Voice tech, today and tomorrow

How often do you talk to your smartphone or digital assistance to get directions or ask a question?

If you’re like most, you’ve already starting using voice services and the amount you use them continues to grow each year. And the reasons people use voice in their daily lives have major impacts on the warehouse space. Here are the top three according to a recent Speak Easy study:

  • It’s convenient
  • It’s simple to use
  • It’s faster than typing

That might be why a Zebra Technologies study found that 72% of logistics professionals expect to use voice-based picking by 2020. Voice picking solutions allow workers to have cues delivered to them to speed up the entire picking process.

Voice in the warehouse isn’t anything new, but more recent innovations are getting interesting with customizable dialog options that move beyond picking. General warehouse operations, equipment status updates, and details on customers are now becoming available from companies like Lucas.

The next step, which we can expect in the next couple of years, is a voice system that can understand and answer questions along the same lines of the voice assistant living in your smartphone. The barrier to overcome is making those assistants shrewd enough to look only within all your data silos and smart enough to understand what that information means.

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Geoff Whiting

About the author…

Geoff is an experienced journalist, writer, and business development consultant with a focus on enterprise technology, e-commerce, and supply chain development. Outside of the office he can be found toying with the latest in IoT, searching for classic radio broadcast recordings, and playing the perpetual tourist in his home of Washington D.C.

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Geoff Whiting