The Mobile Utility Worker of the Future: 3D Depth Information and Wearables

In a world that's never slow to hype the next best big thing, augmented reality and wearable technology are certainly on the 2015 hype curve. At CES a few weeks back, both were key themes. As we head off to DistribuTECH in San Diego, it will be interesting to see how much these “consumer” topics will be present. From the exhibitor line up, a number of companies are showing off various industry use cases for both. I’d propose that these topics have some real concrete utility industry use cases already today.

Let’s look at augmented reality first. Cameras in mobile devices that provide overlays of GIS data to photo images are not new, but the ability to now get 3D depth information opens a whole different set of use cases. The capabilities of the Intel® RealSense™ Snapshot Depth Camera are impressive. Devices such as the super thin Dell Venue 8 7000 Series tablet, which won the prestigious 2015 CES “Best of Innovation” award, comes equipped with the Intel® RealSense™ Snapshot Depth Camera.

For wearables, the newly announced Intel® Curie module, a complete low-power solution designed for developing wearable technology, also opens a raft of potential innovation. We're seeing companies exploring safety vests, hard hats that detect impacts, and wearables that detect proper lifting technique to prevent back and knee injuries. You may see this as a bit of overkill, but these use cases are in the market and can be a benefit for health, safety and wellness as well as heading off insurance claims down the line. Regardless of the business case, preventing a bad back later in life has to be a good thing.

While the technology that enables all of this is remarkable, it's not all about the technology. The key feature here is related to acceptance of the technology, especially by the worker; it has to bring them value. This can lead to some interesting discussions around tradeoffs. Everyone agrees the technology would be beneficial if a wearable provides the ability to detect if a worker is in a place of danger, or if they have fallen in a remote location. But the same technology can also figure out that the worker is in the local coffee shop when he or she is not supposed to be.

The same tradeoff goes for wearables that provide heads-up display technology. We've all seen some great use cases on how such technology can be used for on the job training, servicing a given product, or showing a support group in real time what's going on at a given site. But then what happens when a worker walks into my street or house wearing such a device? Am I comfortable with this? This can make for a number of interesting ‘what if’ scenarios.

The good news is that the utility industry does not have to figure all of this out by itself. Governments are striving to come up with overall privacy legislation that allows for protection of the individual, whether a  private citizen or a worker.

The bottom line is that we seeing more and more companies exploring the benefits such capabilities can bring. Innovation today is being driven by business need.

What do you think? Agree or disagree?

If you are attending DistribuTECH or the Utility Products Expo, be sure to attend my Mobile Utility Worker of the Future workshop at the Utility Products Expo session on Tuesday, February 3 at 4:15 p.m.

See you in San Diego.