Google Glass meets control systems

Technology Update: New visualization technologies offer opportunities for hands-free computer displays, potentially useful in manufacturing, control system programming, warehousing, process operations training, and maintenance applications.


National Instruments demonstrated Google Glass at NIWeek, August 2013 in Austin, Texas. ( Courtesy: CFE Media, Mark T. HoskeEyeglass-based computer displays are quickly advancing and increasingly applied in manufacturing environments for training, maintenance, or as an operator interface. Handheld portables are really good for information access when a third hand is available, but single workers can find them awkward to use in the field or on the work floor. When a safe location is available to put them down, going back and forth to read them is tedious at best, and it may be downright dangerous, depending on the location. Clearly there's a need for a mounted, hands-free display visible without users turning their heads away from the task. Heads-up display with voice control could be particularly useful in many applications. Google Glass offers the potential for a heads-up display that is affordable enough to be tied into manufacturing processes and production lines. It's lightweight, doesn't impede normal vision, and has voice input and audio output.

For industrial use, the prototype Google Glass currently available isn't commercially available. Aside from not being a product for purchase, the screen is too small to hold enough information, and voice recognition needs work for industrial settings. The construction is a bit flimsy and might get in the way of safety glasses; evolution is needed to move Google Glass into production applications. Fortunately, other products are commercially available, as cited by Upstart Business Journal in a Jan. 10 article, "Move over Google Glass. CES brought us these 7 smart eye gadgets." With a focus generally on the consumer market, hands-free computer displays still are weak in some areas, but they are beginning to address limitations.

On the very rugged (and expensive) side, new military gear, such as BAE Systems' Q-Warrior, shows maps and other large screen items, and incorporates all of the ruggedization features needed for a demanding environment. Military-grade computer displays are likely a bit pricey for real-world manufacturing applications, but they are a better proof of concept than Google Glass for the industrial space.

Much more affordable glasses are starting to enter the market, with Vuzix hitting a price point of $699. LaForge is touting a $220 price; its design is much more like standard eyeglasses. Volume producers such as Epson and Sony entering the market, so pricing close to the LaForge number will probably be the norm in a year or so. Contact lens versions of computer displays also are under development.

With cameras, audio output, and voice recognition, as well as a graphic display, eyeglass-styled computer display products offer many new choices. Applications may include new ways to program robots, hands-free inventory taking, better production line feedback, and, of course, robotic surgery and training are all applications for this type of product. The good news is this game is just beginning-don't get left behind, with your head down in a traditional display.

Jim O'Reilly is president of Volanto, providing consulting services for storage and cloud computing business strategies and technologies. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, CFE Media, Control Engineering,

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See the related hands-free display articles at the bottom covering virtual reality programming, headset computer and training simulators.

Jim O'Reilly, president of Volanto, provides consulting services for storage and cloud computing business strategies and technologies. Previously, he was vice president of engineering at Germane Systems, creating ruggedized servers and storage appliances for the U.S. nuclear submarine fleet. He also headed up storage appliance efforts at SGI/Rackable and Verari. O'Reilly was CEO at startups Scalant and CDS; headed operations at PC Brand and Metalithic; and led major divisions of Memorex-Telex and NCR, where his team developed the first SCSI ASIC in the industry, now in the Smithsonian.

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