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    Augmented and Virtual Reality at ProMat 2019 - What We Saw and Didn't See

    We’re back from ProMat 2019 last week in Chicago. This was “the” event to see the latest in warehouse technology, so we were watching to see how the industry is embracing (or rejecting) Augmented Reality (AR) and smart glasses. 

    We stopped by every booth showing any type of AR, Virtual Reality, Mixed Reality, and smart glasses. There were some home run applications, surprises, and notable absences. In fact, in some cases what surprised us most was what wasn’t there.

    Read on for our analysis of the show, and what it means for AR adoption in the warehouse and logistics industry overall – and what is real and ready for deployment in 2019. If you’re a solution integrator, DC manager, consultant, or just want to learn more visit www.lance-ar.ai to set up a meeting.

    WHAT WAS MISSING

    What spoke most loudly to me at ProMat was what was missing. Namely, VR, MR, Microsoft HoloLens and Magic Leap.  Pretty much all of the booth bait that we’ve seen at trade shows like MODEX, ProMat, etc over the last several years was gone. Their absence was deafening – but not in a VR/AR is dead kind of way, but a rather an exciting, cleansing, tipping point kind of way.

    So why wouldn’t the other “booth bait” be at this show?

    Take VR for instance. This is primarily a training, modeling, and sales tool. Your vision and mind are buried in a VR device, disconnected from the world.  Make no mistake, there is a lot of value in this – for education, training, situational role play, complex system model walk-throughs, first person experiences for sales, things like that. 

    Likewise with HoloLens and Magic Leap - these provide amazing mixed-reality experiences, but don’t yet belong in the warehouse. Why? They’re great technologies, with proven applications across many industries, but the weight, bulkiness, and vision impairment is not suited to this type of environment. And the real-world applications… just not there yet. The quantum leap in data manipulation, limiting user interface (e.g. not really hands free), and lack of industrialization of this hardware make it not ready for the warehouse. But probably more importantly, warehouse users can get 90% of the solutions these mixed reality devices enable  via actually deployable solutions offered by today’s AR smart glass hardware. 

    As in readily available and wearable for 8 hours a day in a warehouse environment.  Applications that are solving real world problems today – for workers, for operations, for maintenance, and delivering true ROI for warehouses. Namely the RealWear HMT-1, Vuzix M300 and M300XL, Glass Enterprise Edition, Toshiba dynaEdge, and maybe a handful of others.wearable 8 hours

    What’s important to note here is that of the 938 exhibitors only a handful, 10 or so, were showing AR solutions in their booth. The tradeshow marketing fluff is gone, the bait and switch didn’t work, and the true AR solutions providers survived. What’s great about this is they were all showing legitimately deployable AR hardware and solutions. The real deal.

    WHAT WAS PRESENT

    The show was dominated by AR hardware and software geared toward specific highly-targeted needs around the DC, solving concrete warehouse problems. From basic warehouse operations to AR enabled work instructions to complex AR overlaid pick by vision, plus remote support and maintenance applications, AR smart glasses were showing their strengths.  And what’s more, these AR provider booths were PACKED.

    The lowest hanging fruit for smart glasses in the warehouse is where today's AR applications are focused.finger pointer

    Really, this is simple stuff. Being heads up and hands free to do receiving, replenishment, pallet picking, case sorting, truck loading, etc are all simple things that can done better with AR.  Jump to the ‘ProMat Solutions Highlights’ section below to read about the specific AR applications shown at ProMat, but for now lets just posit the following:

    Would you pay $5,000 for a AR smart glasses remote support application that will reduce your system downtime by 50% or more? Would you be interested in a put-to-light system you could set up with just barcodes anywhere in your DC at a moment’s notice? How about a pick by vision system that you only paid for per user rather than by location? You don’t need to break out your calculators for this analysis.

    You have automation in your warehouse that you've paid millions and millions of dollars for.  It was modeled on business projections five to seven years ago.  Now it needs to be regularly maintained, or is failing more often. And the amount and mix of volume in your warehouse has changed causing choke points and manual workarounds. This is where AR smart glasses solutions are immediately applicable. This is the type of solution that ProMat attendees are trying to solve. This is why those booths were packed.

    WHAT IT MEANS

    These are not NOW-term applications.

    The takeaway is that AR is where it’s at for warehousing. The industry gets it, AR is where it's atand sees the value it can bring NOW-term, to solve 2019 problems. Cheers to the ProMat exhibitors, both those who showed AR applications and those that pulled their VR/MR concept demos, for recognizing this and not wasting time with bait.

    Why?

    For the ProMat attendee - not just the people that go, but the people who pay to send these people to the show - the warehouse operators and warehouse management are looking to solve problems. And they’re looking for tools that solve problems. Could that tool be a conveyor? More rack? A Robot? Could it be via AR smart glasses? Yes it can. 

    But what they don’t want is futuristic solutions for futuristic problems. ProMat attendees aren’t there looking for a vague concept of “innovation.” They're not searching for “disruptive technology.” Honestly, do you know any DC Manager who thinks the term ‘disruptive’ is a positive word??

    What they're searching for are answers to real problems. And if a technology provides those answers, then this audience will buy it.

    PROJECTIONS

    So what does all this mean for AR adoption in warehousing and logistics overall? Here are some thoughts on the key themes and what they mean for the wider industry and where it’s heading.

    Projection: Increase in 2019 AR deployments

    One of the biggest takeaways for me from ProMat was that this industry “GETS” the value of AR. Watching the warehouse buyers at ProMat, it was the sheer demand for AR solutions – that got me. Most of them understood how to apply this technology, where it fits in their individual warehouse operations, and how it can benefit their workers.Signifitant increase in AR logistics

    So my projection for AR in the warehouse space is this: You're going to see significant increase in 2019 deployments. Maybe not huge, but in multitude across multiple clients and multiple warehouse applications. Retail and e-commerce are each slam dunks for these use cases. Low automation warehouses are also ripe for low cost/barrier AR applications.   

    Projection: Industry Incumbents Will Watch AR Upstarts & Trends

    Do the industry hardware manufacturers, WMS providers, and consultants get it?  For the few yes, but for most, AR is more than an inconvenience to their current business plans. And with business booming, will the big boys actually come in and take gobble this AR space up? Or will they hide from this transformational technology it like they did with voice 15 years ago. That remains to be seen. But the buyer clearly gets it. THEY will ultimately decide whether this technology pervades the industry or not. 

    And as for the solutions, you'll start to see more and more of them in the years to come.

    My projection for 2019 is that the smaller AR solution focused companies will continue to lead this technology’s emergence, adding clients and expanding use cases meaningfully in 2019. The larger companies who have played in this space longer will start to take notice of what works and what doesn't. Whether it’s vision picking, remote support, checklists, thingsno stopping ar like that. They'll take notice.

    In the near term I would expect to start hearing about partnerships and white-labeling solutions, while some companies whose core technology is not AR make feeble attempts at their own products. We’ll see others try to shun it and sweep it under the rug.  But again, in the end, the solutions are too good, too flexible, and provide so much value.

    AR PROVIDERS AT THE SHOW

    LogistiVIEW: AR software provider and one of the few actually showing AR overlays on the real world. Demos on the LV_DaveVuzix M300 showed a virtual pick and put wall requiring no fixed infrastructure, and deployable anywhere in a warehouse.  Workers and temps guided by visual+voice instructions replacing bolted-down PTL.  Expect to see them release some interesting new case studies that speak to industry usage.

    Picavi: Providers of AR for warehouse picking, putting, and pick to cart instructions. At ProMat, they demo’d their picavi1software/battery pack hardware pick-by-vision solution which runs exclusively on Glass Enterprise Edition.  They are widely deployed in Europe today with over 60 customers.  Expect to see them expand rapidly here in the US over the next year.

    Ubimax: AR software for multiple industries with warehouse applications for picking/kitting instructions, maintenance, and remote support. Demo'ing primarily on the RealWear HMT-1, they also had Vuzix M300, Glass, and Toshiba Windows-based models on the booth.  A key cross-industry AR player, expect to see them continue to grow their warehouse and logistics customer base.

    RealWear: The only AR smart glass hardware manufacturer with a booth at this year’s show, RealWear was mobbed with RW1attention. Demo'ing their HMT-1 industrial-grade smart glasses, they showed remote support and maintenance applications. With strong attention at this year's ProMat and hardware that's well suited to realities of the warehouse, expect to see them as a continued core player in this space.

    Honeywell Intelligrated: A key logistics industry player overall, Honeywell's AR offering TechSite is a remote support application. Running on the Vuzix M300 and RealWear HMT-1, their demo showed how TechSite enables AR for equipment maintenance with warehouses connecting via see-what-I-see videocalling directly back to their headquarters in Mason, OH for faster issue resolution.

    NXTBase: AR software provider located in the booth of Hanel, provider of vertical carousels. Running on the RealWear HMT-1, NXTBase provides the user interface for the actual worker who interacted with the carousels telling them what to pick or put, and from where. 

    WHERE SHOULD WAREHOUSES START?

    Are you a warehouse operations manager or executive trying to squeeze more dollars out of what you have? Trying to deal with the endless changes that you face every day – omni-channel, peak season, and more? 

    AR is your answer to these challenges. 

    But warehouses are getting stuck by picking the wrong AR use cases. And seeking AR answers from people who don’t know the space.

    If you want results by peak season 2019, you can get them.  But only if you deploy it the right way.

    Ask yourself:

    • Do you understand AR technology? 
    • Do you know how to apply it?
    • Do you have the time to burn figuring it out?

    Well, you've got my number.  Call me.

    Let's do this in the NOW-term.

    At LanceAR, we help warehouses like yours develop their action plan for successful AR deployment. We understand AR, and we understand the warehouse industry.  We’ll help you weed through the noise to know what’s real today, and build your action plan for production deployment.

    Not AR for a distant future, but AR answers that impacts this business cycle and this peak season.

    Let’s meet to discuss your needs, or schedule a 30-minute consultation.

    Be sure to follow Lance-AR for more blog posts like this, follow us on social, and stay tuned for upcoming blog posts about AR in logistics and more. Stay tuned!

     

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