Google Glass Could Change the World, But Especially Distribution Centers

When I first saw Google glass, it took me back to 1995 and the release of the action film Terminator 2 – Judgment Day. A bunch of us sophomores got all excited about the movie and went to see it as a big group with much anticipation. The scene that got deeply engrained in my mind was the Terminator Arnold Schwarzenegger entering the bar scene, starts scanning the objects around him to find an outfit that matches his size.

That scene became the holy grail of augmented reality: in which a wearable or other device makes the person wearing it by disseminating information about objects in the vicinity in order to add immense value. Imagine going to a tradeshow and your glasses scanning passersby, providing name, title, company and a mini biography, and maybe more: a glimpse of what problem is keeping them up at night, what goal brought them to the tradeshow, and what they want to get out of the event.

By having this type of information through a wearable device, you would be able to have a more useful conversation with each person. Every attendee at the tradeshow spent big money to be there and is working on pressing problems that need to get solved. How they spend time on the tradeshow floor can make or break the success of their year.

Of course, many successful people manage this type of today in a different way. Remember the scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda attends a big event with her assistants, Andy and Emily, at her side, ready to feed her the notebooks full of information they had committed to memory about the names and faces of attendees?

Of course, live events just scratch the surface of how wearables can add value. A quick look at the distribution center or manufacturing floor provides other avenues to usefulness.

Wearables offer to change how people work both as supervisors and on the floor:


The distribution center managers could walk around wearing the glasses and see the locations, SKUs and quantity in each location in an augmented reality type of display. The intelligent software could highlight exceptions: empty locations, locations with replenishments coming in, locations running out of space, location of excess quantity, etc.  In addition, these capabilities will help identify scenarios where the physical reality does not match what the warehouse management system shows. Just by doing a walk through around the facility, the manager would be able to pick up anomalies by comparing what the system thinks to the real inventory level.


Training mode: In this mode, the new hires or the temp workers could be exposed to the procedures they need to follow by following a set of instructions displayed in their glasses. A trainer would be available and talk to the trainee through a headset, walking the trainee through the procedure and providing feedback. The trainee would able to see the trainer through his glass, but the trainer would also able to see the trainee and his actions. This visibility would allow the trainer to guide the trainee about how to be as ergonomic as possible.

Execution mode:  In this mode, the operators would execute the procedure on their own with an augmented reality based set of instructions visible in the glass wearable. The operator would have the option to record his actions so that the supervisor do a motion study to provide guidance and feedback. 

Since the instructions are immediately available in augmented reality, employees are no longer dependent on tribal knowledge that gets lost when a key employee leaves. Training is simpler and onboarding new hires or temp workers would take very little time. Instead of spending time training a new hire, the supervisor would outfit the new worker with AR glasses and have him or her follow instructions that are displayed.

I can see any number of scenarios where augmented reality glasses could be useful:

  1. Cubing/packing of boxes – A logic called 3D cubing in Warehouse Management Systems looks at the X, Y, and Z dimensions of products and computes what items go into what cartons. It determines the size of the optimal carton needed for each order. It sounds simple. Unfortunately, sometimes the operators are unable to fit the products in the carton in the exact way the 3D cubing algorithm computed. By displaying the proper sequence, AR glasses would solve this glitch.
  2. Assembly of work orders – Distribution centers often perform value added services, such as building promotional display vehicles or even assembling printers. The only set of instructions given to the workers today is a drawing in a sheet called planogram. The worker looks at the planogram, understands what needs to be built, and then takes their time figuring it out. Then they build the product. Displaying those instructions in an augmented reality fashion through wearable glasses would streamline assembly.
  3. Shop floor MES systems – Shop floor manufacturing execution systems (MES), where workers are given instructions on the sequence of steps they need to execute to assemble a CPU of a PC, laptop, or server on an assembly line. Today, static HTML pages show the places where the screws and components need to be placed, along with arrow marks showing the procedure that needs to be followed. It gets confusing and it takes some time. Think about how much more intuitive assembly instructions would be using augmented reality.

It seems that augmented reality still catches my imagination. How about you? Do you think augmented reality will be a game changer or simply offer incremental improvements?  Will this type of tech appeal to millennial workers? Can we capitalize on the potential for gamification of repetitive tasks? We'd love to hear your thoughts on these ideas in the comments section below.

4 comments on “Google Glass Could Change the World, But Especially Distribution Centers

  1. Pavelar
    April 28, 2015

    Last year SAP released a set of proof of concept videos that show how what you wrote about could work.




  2. puga2006
    April 28, 2015

    Thanks for the comments, if there is a link or anything that can be followed to see what SAP has done will be helpful. 



  3. Pavelar
    April 28, 2015

    Whoops sorry not sure why it didnt show up



  4. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    May 1, 2015

    Thanks for the link, Pavelar. Really interesting!

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