Augmenting Workers With Wearables with Andrew Chrostowski
March 1st, 2023
41 mins 51 secs
About this Episode
Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations, where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers.
In this episode of the podcast, the topic is "Augmenting Workers With Wearables." And our guest is Andrew Chrostowski, Chairman and CEO of RealWear. In this conversation, we talk about the brief history of industrial wearables, the state of play, the functionality, current approaches and deployments, use cases, the timelines, and the future.
If you like this show, subscribe at augmentedpodcast.co. If you liked this episode, you might also like Episode 92: Emerging Interfaces for Human Augmentation. Augmented is a podcast for industry leaders, process engineers, and shop floor operators, hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim and presented by Tulip.
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Industrial wearables have come a long way. There is a big need for assisted reality in many workforce scenarios across industry. There are now companies taking good products to market that are rugged enough, simple enough, and advanced enough to make work simpler for industrial workers. On the other hand, we are far away from the kind of untethered multiverse that many imagine in the future, one step at a time.
TROND: Welcome to another episode of the Augmented Podcast. Augmented reveals the stories behind the new era of industrial operations where technology will restore the agility of frontline workers.
In this episode of the podcast, the topic is Augmenting Workers With Wearables. And our guest is Andrew Chrostowski, Chairman and CEO of RealWear. In this conversation, we talk about the brief history of industrial wearables, the state of play, the functionality, current approaches and deployments, use cases, the timelines, and the future.
Augmented is a podcast for industrial leaders, for process engineers, and for shop floor operators hosted by futurist Trond Arne Undheim and presented by Tulip.
Andrew, welcome to the show. How are you?
ANDREW: Hi, Trond. Great to be here. I'm doing great.
TROND: You know, you are a poster child entrepreneur engineer, Oregon State, University of Southern California. You are actually an expert on the future of work. There are so many people that say they talk about the future of work. You are implementing and, selling, and evangelizing a true future of work product, not just a story.
We're going to be talking about augmented, assisted all kinds of reality and collaboration, Andrew, because that's, I guess, what it's all about. And you lead the industrial wearable company RealWear. But first, I want to get to the fact that you're a certified firefighter. Now, how does that fit into this?
ANDREW: That's really a great question. And one of the things that's been passionate for me from the beginning is being close to the customer. It was true when I was an Air Force officer designing for systems that would support our warfighters and putting myself in their situations in life and death. Certainly, I think about it in terms of customers, and we were dealing with other lines of business and trying to understand the customers' perspective, and especially the frontline workers that create those products.
And when I took over the Scott Safety business when I was part of Tyco, their particular market was firefighters. They were the leading provider of air tanks, cylinders, respirators, what we call SCBAs, self-contained breathing apparatus for firefighters. Now, I know a lot of things about a lot of areas of technology. But I didn't know anything about firefighting.
And so when I took over that business, the first thing I did was go to Texas A&M and actually get trained and certified as an interior firefighter. So I actually put on all the bunker gear, timed donning just like you do when you're in the fire station, fought real fires that were built, and to understand really the challenges they faced. And I came out of that training really having a greater appreciation for just how challenging that work is.
And I know it's shocking to your listeners, but everything we ever see on TV and movies about firefighting is wrong. Basically, firefighting, besides being terrifying, and difficult, and dangerous, is basically blind. You're in the smoke. You're in the dark. And my background in the Air Force thermal imaging systems and multispectral systems came back to me. And I said, "You know what we need to do is give predator vision to firefighters and give them the chance to see the unseen in the dark." And so, coming out of that training, I initiated an in-mass thermal imaging system for firefighters that went to the market about 14 months later at Scott site.
TROND: Wow, that's some real background there. I'd like to start with that story because it reminds me that what we're about to talk about here, you know, wearables, it's not a joke. These are, you know, in industrial environments, these are not optional technologies once they really, really start working. And you can sort of say that they're first-line technologies. They better work every time. So this is not a case where you could kind of, well, you know, let's install another version and restart and whatnot.
These are eventually going to be hopefully systems that the modern industrial worker really starts to trust to perform their job efficiently. Before we get into the nitty-gritty of all of the different things that RealWear is trying to do, I wanted to just ask you a basic question, what is assisted reality? It's a curious phrase. It's like, why does reality need assistance? [laughs] You know, where does that even come from?
ANDREW: You can deny reality, but you can't deny the effects of denying reality. When we talk about assisted reality, it's a point on the spectrum what we call XR, the extended reality. It starts with reality and ends when that virtual reality, the fully immersive digital environment that we experience and what we talk about a lot in the metaverse. Then coming from reality forward, you have assisted reality, which is a reality-first, digital-second environment, which is what we focus on. It is the idea that this is the technology available now that allows a worker to be productive and work safely in a real-world environment.
When you get into augmented reality, which is something that we think of when we think of products like HoloLens and other similar types of products, that's where this digital environment begins to overlay the actual environment. It imposes a cognitive load on the brain so that you're now having to focus on things that aren't really there while there are things that are really around you that could hurt you.
This is great when you're in a safe environment, in a classroom, in a design area, when you're collaborating in the office to be able to immerse yourselves in these three-dimensional digital objects. It's much different when you're walking on the deck of an oil rig or you're potentially working around a cobot that can hurt you when your attention is distracted.
And then we have sort of that virtual reality game that we started with in the metaverse where people are now kind of transposing themselves into a fully digital atmosphere. We at RealWear have focused on making a difference for the future of work and focusing on those 2 billion frontline workers who could work more safely and more productively if they were connected. And it makes perfect sense to us. If we learned anything from the COVID lockdowns, we learned that this idea of working from anywhere, the idea of the office worker working from home, working from the coffee shop, all of this now has become just a given. We know that we need these digital tools to collaborate remotely.
What we only have begun to just crack the code on is that there are, again, 2 billion people working with their hands on the front line who could work more productively and more safely if they were connected workers, if they had access to information, if they had access to collaborating in a hands-free way with their counterparts across the world. And so RealWear, our focus is this mission of engaging, empowering, and elevating the performance of those frontline workers by giving them an assisted reality solution that is extremely low friction and easy to use.
TROND: I like the distinction there. Even though this podcast is called augmented, I like the distinction between AR and assisted reality. Because there's really, I guess, you can see it more clearly in the consumer space where it sounds so fascinating to enter these virtual worlds. But in industry, the virtual is really subservient and needs to be subservient to the very reality. So I guess assisting reality is the point here. It's not the endpoint that is necessarily the virtual.
You're using the technologies, if I understand it, to strengthen the ability to survive and be very, very efficient in reality as opposed to entering some sort of virtual space where you are simulating more. You're talking about critical applications in the physical industrial reality, so that's now clear to me. Having said that, this is not easy to do, is it, Andrew?
ANDREW: No. I mean, there's a lot that comes into this idea of making technology that's human-centric. And all the things you were just talking about really bring us back to this idea that this kind of assisted reality solution is about helping the human being at that nexus of control operate more safely and effectively in a variety of environmental conditions. It is really important that we think about the technology serving the person and not so much technology that is imposing itself on people, which is oftentimes what we see as we try to roll out different kinds of technical solutions.
The folks who are doing work with their hands who are daily exposing themselves to risk have a very low tolerance for things that waste their time, are difficult to use, or distract them from reality. And so all of those things are factors we took into account as we developed this first head-mounted tablet computer that now is in the market as the Navigator 500.
TROND: Andrew, can you tell me a little bit about the history and evolution of these kinds of technologies? Because there is so much hype out there. And you did a pristine job as to making these concepts fairly distinct. But how long has there even been an industrial product? I guess a lot of us remember the first Google Glass, but partly what we remember is the hype in the consumer market, which then kind of fell flat.
And then they reemerged, I guess, as sort of a light competitor to you guys and then has since somewhat disappeared. But, anyway, there are a lot of attempts in the near history of technology to do this kind of thing. I mean, it corresponds pretty neatly to various sci-fi paradigms as well. But what are the real prototypes that go into the inspiration for the technology as you have it today?
ANDREW: Well, I'm glad you mentioned science fiction because really the way I would start this, otherwise, is, say, a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we had Star Wars. And if you think back to that show, science fiction has been part of how people work in modeling, how people work for decades and more, from Jules Verne all the way through to Star Trek and the like.
And so when you think about these technologies, you go back to processes and technologies that support humans collaborating. And back in Star Wars, we had a character called Boba Fett who famously has, and now you see it in the Mandalorian, a little device that comes down from his helmet in front of his eyes and acts as a rangefinder and computer screen. Actually, one of the founding engineers that were part of the design of the first RealWear device came out of designing Boba Fett's helmet.
And so there is really a connection there about how people have imagined people work and how people actually work. And the actual part really started with Dr. Chris Parkinson and spending over ten years working on what is the right ergonomics. What's the right way to shift the balance, the weight, the size, and manner of the display? How do you control the windows and amount of information displayed? And how do you suppress the outside noise so that you can have a voice control system that makes it truly hands-free?
So it began with this idea of all great things start with a spark of imagination. And then bringing that to a very practical point of view of solving the problem of being able to give someone information and collaboration tools hands-free in an environment where they can work safely but connect to all the value and information that's out there that we enjoy every day working as office knowledge workers with the internet.
TROND: Andrew, what are some of the technical challenges you had to overcome? I can imagine; first, you have to design something that is probably bulkier than you wanted, and then eventually reducing its size is one thing. But I can imagine the algorithms apply to, I mean, there's imaging here, and there's a bunch of design techniques to make this work. And then you said ruggedized, right? I mean, this stuff cannot break.
ANDREW: That's right.
TROND: What are the kinds of things that went into and is going into your next-generation products?
ANDREW: Well, I think that's a great question. And, of course, as new products evolve and we build on the learnings we've had from having one of the largest install base of wearable computers in the world, we can sit there and say, look, it starts with ruggedization. Because, frankly, these frontline workers, when they're wearing these devices on their hard hat, at the end of the day, that hard hat gets tossed into the back of the truck. It gets tossed in the van. It gets dropped on the ground, or in the mud, or out in the rain.
So we knew right away that we had to build a device that was able to hold up to that, things that a lot of similar kinds of products that are out there just can't hold up to. So we started with this idea that it had to be extremely rugged. It had to be lightweight enough to wear all day. And our first version did that very well. The Navigator 500 has come now just as rugged but now 30% lighter. So we've learned how to make that ruggedness, even in a lighter form factor.
You have to trade-off on how you see that display in bright sunlight, in dim settings. You have to think about how you operate in a noisy environment. So you can imagine if you're trying to use a voice-driven assistant, whether it's on your phone or a little microphone device in your home, you use a wake-up word, and then you have to try to talk clearly. And if you don't talk clearly, you end up having it not do what you want. That's very frustrating for a frontline worker, and it's just downright distracting and dangerous at times.
So we chose to have a system and voice control that does not require a wake-up word. It's always listening. And it listens in context to what's on the screen. Literally, what we say is you say what you see. And that's about all the training you need to learn how to use the Navigator 500 effectively. And because it's so easy and intuitive, people get used to it quickly. And they go gravitate towards how it's making their work easier to get to, how it's easy to launch a collaborative meeting in any number of key applications, whether it's Microsoft Teams, Cisco, Webex on demand, whether it's Zoom, whether it's TeamViewer, any number of other partners that we have in terms of the types of collaborations.
TROND: Well, I want to get into some of the use cases in a second, but just briefly, so you were founded as a company in 2016. And you're now, I guess, 140-some employees. I mean, it's fairly recent. This is not something that you've been doing since the '70s here. But on the other hand, this is also very challenging. It's not like you produce something, and all of industry immediately buys into it.
So I just wanted to address that, that this particular market, even though it's always been there as this potential, there doesn't seem to have been kind of a killer application like there is in some other hardware markets. And maybe you're thinking you will be one. But I just wanted you to address this issue. Recently, the IBC the analysts came out with this prediction that they're forecasting a decline actually year over year in units sold. And they're also saying a lot of new vendors are going to come into this market, but the market is not very mature right now. What do you say to that kind of an argument?
ANDREW: There's a lot to unpack there, so forgive me if I miss some of the things you brought up there. But I'd start really with RealWear and how we develop this. The Navigator 500, the product we have on the market today, is highly modular, lightweight, does all these types of things, and that's really the eighth generation. Even though we only have been around since 2016, the thinking behind this form factor has gone on for eight generations.
So we've got a lot more maturity than some of the other folks who might be thinking about entering this market. We've also focused entirely from the beginning on that industrial frontline worker. It's a niche of over 2 billion people but very different from the consumer aspect and what people have gotten used to in terms of dealing with a piece of glass that they might carry in their pocket all day long.
We think that A, we've kind of created this assisted reality space. We've won in so many of these industrial cases because of the way we make work safer and more productive. We've now passed applications where we've had installations over 3,500 units with a single use. We've got, in multiple cases, over 1,000 deployments. We've got 75-80 deployments of over 100 units. So we really have broken through.
And what we see is whenever we talk about the assisted reality market, or we can talk more broadly, we usually only see data on augmented reality. They put all these smart glasses in sort of a category. And we're really only a portion of what they count as smart glasses. So when they start saying there's downward pressure on that market or it's not growing as fast, it goes back to something I just read in a book about builders in terms of how innovation happens.
And the author described augmented reality as a solution looking for a problem. We came at it with a particular problem we were solving, and that's I think the big difference between us and a lot of how people have come into this space. We knew exactly the problem we're trying to solve. We knew that we wanted to make the human the central part of that control Nexus. And we knew that we wanted to be in a space where others would find it difficult to succeed.
And so, as we've been successful here and as we continue to grow and expand these deployments and getting into larger and larger deployments, we know that others will kind of begin to look into this space and try to compete. But most of them are bridging over from that consumer side where a lot of the fundamental design trade-offs they've made do not well-support all shift use in a ruggedized environment and with the ease of use that we've designed into our products.
TROND: Andrew, that makes a lot of sense to me.
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TROND: Let's talk about some of these bigger deployments. So I don't know if you can mention names, but the biggest one, I'm assuming, is in the automotive industry because they are at the forefront of a lot of automation technology. So I'm just going to make that assumption. Tell me a little bit about that deployment. What is it all about? What are they using it for? What can you tell me about what they're using it for?
ANDREW: Thank you, Trond. And I'm super excited about our success in the automotive sector, not only just because of what it represents but because, as an industry, it's so central to economies across the globe. And when we think about the transformation of that industry going to electrification, that change creates opportunity for us as well. So today, with our partner TeamViewer we're in over 3,500 dealerships. Virtually every dealership in America now has a RealWear product in it.
For those technicians, when they're dealing with a particularly tough problem, they're able to put on our device as simple as what I'm doing here, just putting on their Navigator, their HMT-1. And they can call and connect with a technical assistance center in Detroit and have a first-person conversation with an expert who can help walk them through that repair, whether it's pushing diagrams to them to, illustrating over the video that they're getting but helping them solve that problem faster.
And why is this so significant? Well, because from the customer point of view, you're happy that your problem is being solved quicker. You've got your car back. The dealer is happy because now they've been able to invoice the customer or invoice for it in this particular case to get their warranty repair dollars back. And Ford is happy because now they've got a happy customer, and they've got a better reputation and user experience. So it's a very positively reinforced system.
And so when you think about that application alone of just being able to solve problems of existing cars, now think about the introduction of all of these electric vehicles to dealers, not only with Ford but anybody else you can think of is moving into electrification. There are a lot of technicians who know how to work on a gasoline engine, but very few who maybe know how to really solve those electricals. So this is a way that these dealers can bridge the skills gap that exists between what they have and what they need to be able to do in the near future.
And that skills gap, by the way, is recognized not just in the automotive industry, but you and I experience it every day when we deal with restaurant industry, service industries, trucking. You think about any kind of skilled labor situation; we know demographically we've got a big gap. And that's going to be persistent for decades. And so a tool, a knowledge transfer platform that lets people move up that learning curve more rapidly to do more meaningful work, to be more self-actualized as they do that not only helps people but it helps industry serve their customers. And so we see ourselves really at the forefront of transforming work as we know it.
TROND: I'm so glad you went to the skills, and it's so exciting that that's the main application right now because I think there's a lot of discussion, obviously, in the industry across sectors about the skills gap; they say, right? That the gap...we have to train people, or they have to go to school. They have to learn. It's an endless complexity.
But, I mean, you're sort of saying the opposite. You're sort of saying cancel the training, put the headset on. Some of these things, very advanced training, very advanced advice, real-time support, can happen without going aside, looking at a computer, calling someone up, talking to you, you know, see you next week with your car. And then, meanwhile, what you're doing is scratching your head for a while, trying to figure out what's wrong.
But you're saying this creates a much more dynamic scenario both for delivering the service and actually for the human worker who's trying to deliver some sort of service here and is plugged into an information ecosystem. I'm just wondering, is that a very, very typical use case? And do you foresee that that is the use case for assisted reality? Or are there wildly different use cases just depending on, I mean, pick another industry. I was just imagining the medical industry, famously remote surgery, or whatever it is. Some sort of assistance during surgery is obviously the big use case. I could imagine that there's something to be done here also with RealWear.
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, this is such an exciting area and topic to talk about, education, how people are educated, how that education plays to their employment and their employability, and how they add value and have careers. And we all have talked about whether university work is preparing people for the kinds of careers there are today or whether or not we need to be considering other kinds of applications, going direct to coding or whatever else.
So when you talk about frontline workers, it's absolutely a matter of specific knowledge. It's not just general knowledge that matters. It's very specific things that can happen. And so by connecting people to experts, you do two things: you get the job done right away, but you also mature that worker because they learn from those experiences. And they can use our device to actually, while they're doing the work, film it. It can be curated and then used as training videos for the next generation of work that goes with it. So I think that alone is really exciting.
There are so many use cases, though, beyond this, remote experts see what I see that we've been talking about. That's really...I'd say the predominant deployment today that people think about is how do I collaborate remotely on the front line? And that's super valuable. But what becomes even more interesting is when that device becomes a solution for how you do your daily work.
As an example, if you're a heavy engine manufacturer and you have an end-of-line inspection, and that inspector is using a clipboard and a checklist to look at how the engine is functioning, imagine replacing that. For one of our particular customers, that takes about 30 minutes. When they implemented workflow using hands-free Navigator, they were able to reduce that time to about 12 minutes because now the person is not wasting time going back and forth to a clipboard, or to a table, or writing things down.
They're absolutely hands-free, immersed in the work, being presented the next inspection point in their display, being able to photograph it, work through it, look at a comparison, document it. And the important thing is not just that they're doing it faster; they're finding three times as many defects because they're not distracted. We know there's no such thing as actually dual processing as human beings.
If we think that we can listen to a Zoom call and do emails, we're doing neither very well. We know that we're just quickly switching. And that's the same thing that a lot of frontline workers experience. When you make it immersive and hands-free with workflow, now you begin to expand the value that this technology begins to support so much greater. As we move along, the implementations and the deployments are going to move from sort of this collaboration centric to workflow centric to then being able to be with our partner, IBM.
IBM has actually created something they call Inspector Wearable, where they're giving a superpower inspection to an operator who might be standing at the end of an assembly line watching a car roll by. It stops in front of them. The camera knows, because of machine learning with Watson up in the cloud, that, hey, this is what a good wheel should look like and immediately highlights the operator with a telestration that's the wrong nut. There's a scratch on this rim or whatever defect we might be talking about.
So then you start actually using these technologies that are inherent with the system to be able to augment the capabilities of these workers. And that starts to get really exciting. I'll add one of the points to that is in Q4, we're going to be introducing a thermal imaging camera that can easily be just snapped on on the part of our modular solution for Navigator to be able to then snap on a thermal imaging camera and give that person predator vision to be able to see if they're walking around their plant.
They can see that an electrical panel is overheating or that a motor is hot, or they can use it in any of the hundreds of thermography industrial programs that people use today. So I think part of that transition goes from just being collaboration to how we work and do workflows to actually augmenting the capabilities of the folks who are wearing these wearable computers.
TROND: Yeah, and that's so interesting. And, I guess, correct me if I'm wrong, but that's where it ties into not only IBM but a bunch of your other software partners too where Tulip being one of them, where now that you're providing a device, it actually is the end client that can put that device to use in their own scenarios.
And they can build, I guess, apps around it and find their own use cases that may not be the ones that are super apparent to any of those who deliver it, whether it is you delivering the hardware, IBM, you know, delivering perhaps the machine learning capabilities or some other knowledge, or it is Tulip delivering kind of a frontline software platform that's adaptable. It is actually the end client that sits there and knows exactly how they want to explore it, and then in a second iteration, change that around. Or am I getting this ecosystem wrong here?
ANDREW: No, I think you're onto something there very powerful, Trond. And there are three specific dots we have to connect when we think about a sustainable solution that can be deployed broad-spread across an industrial base, and the first one is the device. The device has to be right. It has to work for the user. It has to meet the requirements of the environmental conditions they're operating in. And so the device is critical. And that's really where RealWear started our journey with that focus on the user and the user experience with our device.
But the next step is really the data that comes with it. That's that part where it's both accessing data and creating data through applications that they use to feed the data lakes above and to feed back into this IoT world where there's information coming up from our equipment and being fed back to us that we can take action on.
And then, ultimately, we have to connect to systems of record. And this is where Tulip, for instance, one of our partners, plays such an important role. It's that connection between all of these things that talk together, the device, the data, and these decision-making systems of record, that now when they talk and connect, it's a very sticky situation. Now you've created more than just a point solution. You've created a system solution where you've changed the way people work, and you reduce friction in interacting with those systems. And I think that that's a real clear case.
I'll give an example that RealWear did in a very simple way. We recently acquired a small company called Genba AI. Their whole purpose in life was to be able to take a CMMS system, which is done for maintenance purposes, and working with eMaint, which is a division of Fortive, and be able to then say, "We can take that currently operating device that requires a worker to print out a work order, go do something, and then put it back into a computer, we can now do that with voice only."
So, again, you take friction out of that interaction and allow them to do things easier but with the systems of record. And so that's why I get so excited about partners like Tulip that are making and connecting the dots between all of these disparate systems that we find in fourth-generation industrial complexes and making them work together seamlessly to give information to make better decisions by the folks who manage that work.
TROND: This makes me think of something that I promise we'll get back to in a second talking about the industrial metaverse, which I think is far more interesting than the consumer metaverse. And we'll get to that because you were starting with this whole ecosystem that starts to develop now. But before we get there, I just wanted you to comment a little bit on COVID, COVID-19. Massive experience; no one is untouched by this. And there clearly was a future of work dimension to it. And people have made a lot out of that and prognosticate that we will never show up in the office again, or hybrid is here forever. What did COVID do to RealWear?
ANDREW: Well, you know, it's an interesting perspective. I've been with RealWear in one capacity or another since almost the beginning, starting off as a Strategic Advisor and Chairman of the Advisory Board to, stepping in as the COO during the series A, and ultimately becoming the CEO and Chairman of the board in 2020 just as COVID was happening.
So a lot of that immediate experience of RealWear was at a time when the whole world was starting to shut down and realize that we had to work differently. So I literally had one meeting with my direct staff as the new CEO before Washington State was shut down. And all the rest of the year was done via remote work. So it's not a dissimilar story to what a lot of people went through in recognizing that, hey, what used to be done in the office and was deemed important to be done in the office had to now be done elsewhere.
And we came quickly with this adoption of digital tools that supported this digital transformation. And what it really did was act as a catalyst because before, you could have a conversation about the value of remote collaboration software, laptop to laptop, and that sort of thing, but nobody was thinking about the front line as much. That was a really tall connection for RealWear to make. We'd go in and talk about the value of a hands-free remote connected worker.
But when you suddenly had millions of displaced workers all contributing, in some cases with productivity increasing, it now said, hey, by the way, do you want to take this great hybrid environment you just created, and do you want to extend it to those important people who don't get to stay home, who don't get to dodge the risk of being exposed to COVID, who have to go out and serve the public or serve your customers?
And now, if we talk about giving those people connectivity and extending that with technology that exists today using familiar platforms...RealWear runs on an Android 11 platform. That means imaginations are limitation, not technology. All those solutions we're talking about can be done in an Android environment, can be imported very quickly, and provide a solution for those users. And so it acted as a catalyst to say that remote experts at smart glasses, as it were, were here, and it was now, and this technology was ready. And the deployments took off.
It probably shortened our deployment cycle. Our sales cycle probably contracted by 70% during COVID as people began to realize this is how we can get work done. This is how we can continue to serve our customers. And so it was a huge change, not only in terms of the demands that we were able to meet thanks to the great teamwork of our whole RealWear ecosystem and supply chain partners, but it also made a difference because it changed the thought processes of leaders who now realized that creating a connected worker not only was feasible, that it had a real, recognizable ROI to it.
TROND: Andrew, you're really speaking to me here because eons ago, in my Ph.D., I was working on this very visionary idea back in 1999, the early internet heydays. Again, the future of work people and tech companies were saying, "We are soon unleashing the situation where no one has to come into the office. We will sit all separately on these islands and work together."
So I would say I guess what has happened now is there's a greater awareness of the need for hybrid solutions meaning some people are physically there, others are not. But the powerful thing that you are enabling and demonstrating visually and physically is that remote is one thing and that it remains challenging, but it can now, in greater extent, be done. Physical presence is still really, really powerful.
But what's truly powerful is the combination of which. It is the combination of physically being there and being amplified or assisted, or eventually perhaps in a fruitful way augmented but without losing touch with reality if it can be done safely. That's really the power. So there's something really interesting about that because you can talk about it all you want. You can say, well, with all the technology in the world, you know, maybe we don't want to meet each other anymore. Yeah, fine.
But there's a powerful argument there that says, well if you combine the world's biggest computer, the human being, with some secondary computers, you know, AIs and RealWears and other things that have other comparative advantages, the combination of that in a factory floor setting or perhaps in other types of knowledge work is really, really hard to beat, especially if you can get it working in a team setting.
I guess as you were thinking more about this as a futuristic solution, Andrew, what kind of changes does this type of technology do to teamwork? Because we've been speaking about the simple, remote expert assistance, which is sort of like one expert calling up another expert at headquarters. And then, you move into workflow, which is powerful product workflow in industry. But what about the group collaboration possible with this kind of thing? Have you seen any scenarios where multiple of these headsets are being used contemporaneously?
ANDREW: Yeah, I mean, I think there's the application of not only people using them broadly in doing their work but also then being connected to a broad number of users. There's a great video that Microsoft put out when they built Microsoft Teams to run specifically on our RealWear platform. And in it, we talk about a plant where, you know, Honeywell was certifying a very large deployment technology in a plant that normally would take 40 workers to go to this facility and physically sign off all the things that need to be done for this large automation system.
But using Microsoft Teams and RealWear devices, Honeywell was able to do that completely remotely. They were able to have the folks who were on site wearing the devices going through. And all of these people who would travel to it are now wherever they happen to be, in the office, at home, somewhere else, being able to see what was happening in the factory and sign off and validate the work remotely. So it's like this world where we've taken away the borders, these artificial borders between the office, not the office, and then the front line.
And I think that the biggest thing that we can take away from this conversation today, Trond, is that we all probably accept that some form of hybrid work is here to stay with office workers. We've just proven over the last two years that you can work extremely productively as a remote team. And we've also validated there are times when we just got to come together from a human point of view to accomplish even more in terms of some of the cultural and emotional intelligence and teaming things that happen.
But what we've also learned is that those frontline workers don't have the luxury of being somewhere other than where the value is being created on the manufacturing line, up on that cell phone tower, or in the street laying asphalt. They all have a job to do, and they have to do it in their presence. And so when we then connect those people and give them access to all of the information that we as connected workers in a hybrid environment accept and the collaboration, we find that that is a place that really brings the dignity of that frontline work up.
It inherently makes them more engaged with their customer, with the job they're doing, with their peers that they can now connect to so seamlessly, and, frankly, with the company. So I think that there's a change here that's happening that's going to be about the right degree of connectivity for the job. And we'll do more of what matters based on the work that has to be accomplished.
And we're just not at a place yet where robots are going to replace carbon-based computing systems that are self-replicating. That's the way NASA described people back, I think, in the '60s is a general-purpose computer that's carbon-based and self-replicating. And really, that's going to be with us for a long time.
And the dignity of those people doing valuable work and helping focus on how do we make them safer and more productive in these very challenging environments? That's changing the future of work. And it's aligning more closely with this idea of, hey, being connected makes us more effective as a company, as a tribe, as a nation, whatever it is. Connectivity becomes extremely valuable.
TROND: It's a big trend. And it's about time there's some justice to it. I mean, you speak with passion about this. It's almost unbelievable to me, and it should be [laughs] unbelievable to a lot of people, that we've invested billions of dollars in office software, in kind of automation for efficiency's sake. But we haven't, until this point almost, invested, certainly not the same amount of dollars and euros and yen, in human-centric technologies that are augmenting people at the same time.
Because there's nothing wrong with these other technologies or if they're benefiting office workers, but as you point out, billions of workers could be enabled, knowledge workers. They just need somewhat different tools, and they're harder to make. This is not like making a desktop software program. These things have to work in a real rugged context.
Andrew, thank you so much for enlightening me on the challenges and the exciting not future anymore. Andrew, it's the exciting presence of this technology in the industrial workplace, and what that bodes for the future when I guess, people see the picture and are willing to truly roll this out to every frontline worker who needs this kind of amplification.
ANDREW: Well, Trond, thank you so much for having me. And I think when your listeners think and hear about AI, I know the first thing that crosses their mind is going to be this artificial intelligence, the compute power that's being built into the cloud to solve all these technical problems. But I'd like them to also begin to think about that as augmented intelligence, the way human-centric technology can make those workers better able to do the work that has to be done by people. And we're so excited to be able to talk about this.
Thank you for the invitation to explore this topic. I really appreciate the chance to share some of the things that RealWear's done in this regard. And I'd love to come back next time and expand our conversation.
TROND: You have just listened to another episode of the Augmented Podcast with host Trond Arne Undheim. The topic was Augmenting Workers With Wearables. Our guest was Andrew Chrostowski, Chairman and CEO of RealWear. In this conversation, we talked about industrial wearables now and in the future.
My takeaway is that industrial wearables have come a long way. There is a big need for assisted reality in many workforce scenarios across industry. There are now companies taking good products to market that are rugged enough, simple enough, and advanced enough to make work simpler for industrial workers. On the other hand, we are far away from the kind of untethered multiverse that many imagine in the future, one step at a time.
Thanks for listening. If you liked the show, subscribe at augmentedpodcast.co or in your preferred podcast player, and rate us with five stars. If you liked this episode, you might also like Episode 92: Emerging Interfaces for Human Augmentation. Hopefully, you'll find something awesome in these or in other episodes, and do let us know if you do so.
The Augmented Podcast is created in association with Tulip, the frontline operation platform connecting people, machines, devices, and systems in a physical location. Tulip is democratizing technology but also, importantly, empowering those closest to operations to solve problems. Tulip is also hiring, and you can find Tulip at tulip.co.
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