Service organizations are switching from being reactive to proactive and utilizing mobile solutions to support both the organization and the field technician to do so. For the field service technician, mobile solutions are not only providing important customer information, but also service and equipment history, contracts, parts on order, picture taking capabilities, and GPS functionality for easy locating. Mobile software solutions can also provide information into which other customers are nearby and can be proactively serviced while a field technician is in the area. This easy access to customer information builds greater customer satisfaction, which ultimately drives customer retention and profitability.But mobile solutions are not restricted to smartphones and tablets anymore. Wearable computers are now being considered as a technology that can help field technicians use voice commands to access records, schematics, and diagrams while keeping their hands free. Wearable computers can also provide video and picture sharing with a remote agent, while the field tech is on-site to give additional guidance and provide a faster response to complete the job on the first trip. Data regarding customer changes and requests can now be collected and shared in real time across the entire organization to build a more comprehensive view and help foster new solutions for customers.

What are Wearable Computers?

Wearable computers can be any multipurpose gadget that we can strap onto our wrists, heads or other body parts. Mary Meeker, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, said wearable computing would be the star of the “third cycle” of the Web. In her annual report on the state of the Internet, she said the world was already entering a cycle of “wearables, driveables, flyables and scannables.” Wearable computing is emerging as the type of significant technology shift that will drive innovation in the way personal computing did in the 1980s or mobile computing and tablets are doing currently.

Wearable computing can include any data gathering and disseminating devices which enable the user to operate more efficiently during normal execution of the user’s tasks. And the possibility of these devices becoming everyday work tools doesn’t sound so futuristic anymore.

Why Use Wearable Computers?

The assumption of wearable computing is that the user will be doing something else at the same time he is doing the computing. It is based on the idea that computing is not the primary task.

The quick and accurate availability of complex information to the worker in the field, or in a non-office workplace, has been an objective of many organizations since the establishment of computerized records in the 1950′s. While handheld devices can provide access to useful information, field service workers often use one or both hands while carrying out their tasks and also need to maintain eye contact with their piece of work. A wearable computer with a hands-free interface and head-mounted display can provide a fantastic solution for these workers: freeing up their hands and vision and allowing them to work quicker and more efficiently than if they were using handheld devices.

While there are many forms of personal information devices now available to the consumer, the wearable still provides the most advanced platform for personal applications. The wearable can go beyond supporting the provision of digital information and multimedia to actually supporting the wearer in the full production of, not only text, but also audio, images and video while on the job, all in real time.

So How Does It Work?

Let’s consider a technician working on a complex piece of machinery as an example for the potential application field for wearable computers. As opposed to using maintenance manuals, which are often large, complex documents that can deteriorate quickly with frequent use in working environments, the technician can use a head-mounted wearable computer. The possibility of using a head-mounted display to overlay technical drawings and maintenance procedures onto an actual piece of equipment being maintained offers an attractive alternative. A wearable computer can also be used to efficiently update the maintenance records for the equipment while the procedures are being carried out. In addition, the availability of video clips illustrating procedures which can be viewed while carrying out the maintenance while both hands are free can be extremely helpful.

The wearable computer provides the greatest in network access– hands-free, heads-up operation with full mobility and ample computing power. Now field technicians can connect to enterprise information systems without interrupting their work. With the convenience of voice activation and head-mounted or touch screen display options, technicians can meet their ever-broadening responsibilities, supported by immediate access to online manuals, catalogs, parts lists, drawings, supplier information, work forms and much more.

The Future of Wearable Technology is NOW

The many opportunities offered by wearable technologies have triggered the imaginations of designers and researchers in a wide variety of fields. The inevitability of computers and interfaces which are small enough to be worn on the human body has inspired the creation of devices and applications which can assist with specialized professional and personal activities.

In reality, limitations imposed by factors such as battery life, processor power, display brightness, network coverage and form factor have delayed the widespread introduction of wearable computers. Nevertheless, over the past decade there have been many successful implementations and, as the miniaturization of computing devices continues, an increasing number of viable applications are becoming available.

The Next Big Thing

Whether on-site, in transit, or at home, wearables could enable users to maintain communication with company computers through direct connection or Internet. The wearable device brings forth a whole new concept in mobile computing, offering the latest in PC portability.

This lightweight, ultra-mobile technology is the next big trend in mobile field service software. Shelley Harrison, the publisher of Wearable Computing says, “This is a market that’s about to explode. In the near future, we are sure to see the impact of wearable computers on the way we conduct business.” Wearable computing may be the largest technological advancement of the century. Who knows what the future holds in the field service industry for such an incredible instrument.

Photo credit: Ciccarese Design