Enabling wearable technology

Features - Electronics

Wearable devices were the talk of The Consumer Electronics Show 2014 in Las Vegas earlier this year, and Gartner has predicted the market to be worth $10 billion by 2016. However, two big questions still loom: Exactly what is the future of this consumer-driven technology, and is there a place for it in aerospace and defense?

August 13, 2014
Kevin Deal

Once again, consumer technology marches into the corporate world. Smartphones and the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) trend have made their mark, but there is a new kid on the block – wearable technology. As witnessed with smartphones, once widespread consumer adoption takes place, the corporate world is never far behind – as long as the new technology has value.

“Wearables are a natural extension in the promise of mobility and create new opportunities for aerospace and defense (A&D), notes R. “Ray” Wang, principal analyst and chairman of Constellation Research Inc. While very common in military applications, commercial use cases range from improving efficiencies in maintenance with better information and visual insights to transforming the passenger experience by crewmembers. This convergence of material science and computing provides new disruptive business models and an opportunity to begin digital transformation initiatives.”

So, where does the value lie in wearable technology for A&D?

While not new to a soldier or pilot – night vision technology is common – the technology has not yet broken through in the support space. Any technology introduced into the A&D industry must have the underlying purpose of reducing complexity and workload for military and aviation operators. Maintenance and support domains offer untapped opportunity for efficiency improvements and cost savings. Safety, usability, and efficiency are key requirements regardless of the application of such technology.

Safety at the asset

In A&D, the safety of workers or troops is always top priority. In a practical sense, wearable technology can significantly enhance safety in what can often be complex situations, allowing staff members to have both hands free. The technology leaves no trailing cables, and devices are not plugged into anything if they have to move quickly, say in the case of a fire.

Handing wearable capabilities to a soldier can also ensure safety of troops on a larger scale. A specialist could scan equipment or logistics situations, evaluate the risks, and then directly tell the soldier about any malfunctions. Systems like this would provide more agile responses during shifting tactical situations.

Improving MRO efficiency

While having the information at the asset could prove very valuable, it is important to remember that wearable technology cannot hinder the user physically. It must meld seamlessly into everyday actions without being compromised.

Battlefields are dangerous, making robustness, reliability, and ease of use all key factors to help keep users safe. So, wearables on the market today may be an interesting concept – particularly for support domains in A&D – but they’re not quite ready for more hostile environments yet.

Such technology is beginning to make waves in the civil aviation industry. Japan Airlines has already shown the practical applications of wearables by using Goog­le Glass in their maintenance process. Engineers working around the plane on the apron wear the glasses and send images of the aircraft to maintenance specialists for assessment. The maintenance specialists then feed any issues they see back to the engineer on the ground. The expedited process allows maintenance specialists to assess far more aircraft than they could if they were on site. Work is completed promptly, can be assessed in real time, and all information is recorded to assess further issues down the line.

Low-cost airlines are researching how wearables could improve their maintenance. EasyJet is looking at deploying new technology that would enable remote engineering teams to see exactly what pilots or engineers see using virtual reality glasses.

There’s also significant potential for wearable technology in the support chain. Maintenance engineers could use similar optical recognition technology to understand, immediately, what needs replacing and how long it would take to get there – with the option to automatically order it there and then. Instant information availability combined with accurate data capture in a two-way interactive process could remove unnecessary steps and significantly increase efficiency in operations.

Enhanced behavior required

The key to using of any advanced technology is creating a sustained behavior. Research from supply chain consultant company Endeavor shows that consumers get bored with wearable technology within months of ownership. The company’s white paper, “The 9 Baseline Criteria,” says that one-third of American consumers stopped using specific wearable technology within six months.

Education and habit formation are the key issues here. If the user knows that the technology can enhance their daily activities, then they are more likely to adapt to it. Continued use makes the technology natural, and the user feels they cannot do their job without it. Other workers see this as the norm and have a social motivation to adopt the technology. The result is that wearable technology blends into the everyday and becomes less alien.

How will this develop?

Over the next few years, wearable technology will reinvent the working day across many different industries – from nurses to office workers to deep sea oil rig engineers. But the key to success, particularly in A&D, is to ensure the technology focuses on the end users’ requirements.

IFS Applications is already running on a Samsung Gear 2 smart watch as a proof-of-concept with IFS Labs, and it demonstrates the ability to engage with content from enterprise resource planning (ERP) and enterprise asset management (EAM) systems to not only read updates, but also make transactions, send alerts for certain processes, and to receive important notifications in real-time.

All new technology must reduce complexity and workload for military and aviation operators, and the most important thing is to ensure that wearables will deliver on this. Perhaps A&D will embrace this revolutionary technology, but it will have to deliver on business needs as opposed to simply being the latest technology in fashion.


IFS North America


About the author: Kevin Deal, is VP Aerospace and Defense, IFS North America, and can be reached at kevin.deal@ifsworld.com.