SAP to release AR apps on Android Wear for smart glasses in the workplace

Apps are designed to help field technicians and warehouse workers

Editor's note: SAP originally said that the two AR apps would be sold in Google Play this week, but later said they would go on sale sometime in October. The story has been updated with the correct time frame.

SAP next month will begin selling two workplace-related augmented reality apps for use with Android Wear smart glasses, including Google Glass, to aid warehouse workers and field service technicians.

Pricing hasn't been announced for the new apps, which are called SAP AR Warehouse Picker and SAP AR Service Technician. They will be sold generally in the Google Play store.

SAP released two separate videos showing how the apps can be used with Vuzix smart glasses to fulfill orders in a warehouse  or to assist a field service technician making a repair call in a complex setting. In the second video, a repairman uses smart glasses to locate a switching room in the basement of a sports stadium by obeying audible commands and following navigation arrows that appear on the lens of the device (see video). 

Both apps took as long as six months to build and have been used successfully in beta testing with various SAP customers.

The apps are primarily designed to improve workplace efficiency and enhance worker safety, since smart glasses keep a worker's hands free to complete tasks.

Beta testers have been most excited about having what's called "over-the-shoulder" instructions for field technicians that can be communicated live and wirelessly via video from a remote expert instructor to the technician doing the actual work, according to SAP. The video instructor can appear in the eyepiece of the smart glasses, along with 3D images of parts and the text of written instructions, while live audio can be heard in the earpiece.

With smart glasses running the apps, bar codes or other information can be scanned and sent wirelessly so it can be checked against information in databases for fulfilling orders or finishing repairs. Automated voice instructions can tell a warehouse worker which items to pick for an order, and the worker can respond with voice commands when the item has been picked.

"Both apps give mobile users added content and contextual elements to complete their jobs better," said Josh Waddell, vice president of the mobile innovation center at SAP, in an interview.

"Customers are very excited about these apps, and we are too," Waddell said. "This is technology on the edge that's been in Gartner's technology 'trough of disillusionment' for years and is now about to emerge."

Specialized apps that run on older operating systems, such as Windows CE, have been around for a decade or longer to help military and other aircraft technicians make complex repairs onboard planes. The emergence of Android Wear apps that can be used with smart glasses is new, Waddell said.

The "over-the-shoulder" coaching capability of the service app is a "killer use case," Waddell said. He said it will be especially useful as a generation of service technicians retires and is replaced by younger workers who can be easily and quickly instructed in the field while doing repair tasks on complex equipment. "This can help companies worried how they are going to train people coming on board," he said.

Waddell said beta testing of the apps was mostly done using the Vusix M100 or Kopin Golden-i smart glasses, but the apps will run on Google Glass and other devices.

Like some early Google Glass users, some of the beta testers reported that they felt dizzy or experienced other mild side effects after using the devices for extended periods of time, according to Waddell. "We worked through some of the user discomfort challenges, and monocular vision in general will cause some people issues with dizziness," he said. "Once smart glasses are binocular that will help."

One thing that seems to help reduce discomfort is to have the monocular lens positioned over the user's stronger eye, which could be either the left or the right.

Getting workers to wear smart glasses isn't that difficult, since many repair and warehouse jobs already require the use of safety glasses, Waddell added.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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