After several years of pilots and phased rollouts of smart glasses and wearable computing, shipping and supply chain logistics firm DHL Group plans to expand its investment in augmented reality (AR) wearables.
The company’s contract logistics division DHL Supply Chain last week announced it’ll become one of the first customers worldwide to deploy the second-generation of Google Glass Enterprise Edition. That division is also spurring on other DHL business units to ramp into AR; the company says that DHL Express also has plans in the near future to utilize smart glasses in its shipping hubs.
DHL Supply Chain will seed its warehouses with hundreds of the updated AR smart glasses to help employees in the manual ‘picking’ process of pulling the right items from warehouse inventory to fulfill customer orders. The use of AR-powered vision technology gives warehouse picking employees a heads-up display that helps them locate and read barcodes without tying up hands with a scanning device or clip board.
According to a recent report on the use of emerging technology in supply chain fulfillment by Zebra Technologies, 55% of organizations still use pen and paper to manage their logistics, and wearables still has a relatively low penetration rate. That study showed that in the next 10 years, the use of wearables will rise from 44% up to 93%. In the nearer-term future, analysts with Gartner expect that across the enterprise, AR-enabled head-mounted displays are due for big growth. The firm expects deployments to rise by over 19% through 2022.
The hands-free experience through AR smart glasses has been a hit with DHL warehouse employees, who can more quickly locate and sort products in warehouse trolley boxes. Since its initial pilots and first stage of deployment of smart glasses starting in 2015, the firm reports it has seen a 15% increase in productivity across its warehouses as a result of the technology.
The hands-free experience will now be further enhanced with additional improvements to Google Glass software that are adding object recognition to the mix.
“With the corresponding software, it is no longer just possible to read out barcodes, locate products, and display the corresponding storage compartment; in future, also complex objects can be identified with the smart glasses,” says Markus Voss, COO and CIO of DHL Supply Chain. “We expect this to lead to further productivity increases from which our employees and our customers will benefit equally.”
Voss says that AR wearables are just a part of a broader company-wide digitalization strategy at the company, which also includes the use of robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles. The firm is also using smart glasses to run simulations to train employees.