Is wearable technology a fad or the future?

1 August 2014 | Markus Kückelhaus

Markus Kückelhaus is director, research and development at DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation From Google Glass to Fitbit Flex and Pebble Steel, the consumer market for technology you can wear cannot be ignored.

Deloitte forecasts that 10 million devices will be sold in 2014 and Credit Suisse predicts the industry will be worth $50 billion (£29.6 billion) by 2018. Now they’re becoming popular in business, with companies finding uses for the latest gadgets. 

At the moment, we see wearable devices in the supply chain being best used in picking and packing processes where it is helpful for workers to have both hands free. Supermarket Tesco, for example, has implemented a scheme, issuing armbands to workers at one of its Irish distribution centres to help them track the goods they are collecting. This can increase productivity as a result.

Wearable technology could also play an important role when it comes to workers’ safety. Consumers already use such devices to track their health and fitness so it’s logical that companies might want to do the same. For example, long haul drivers could wear devices that track their fatigue levels, leading to the development of shift schedules ensuring drivers do not become sleepy and prone to accidents.

With creative examples popping up in other industries, such as travel and hospitality, some may be surprised that wearable technology isn’t being used more in supply chain activities. Because of supply chains’ global reach and complexity, businesses might face issues rolling out wearable technology. Adoption might take longer because it’s difficult to scale some of these solutions across a global network.

Equipment used in the supply chain needs to be more robust and durable than products designed for consumers. Google Glass, for example, might never really have widespread industry applications because they aren’t robust enough. They also don’t currently have the necessary battery life and other qualities that supply chain equipment needs.

There are also concerns about the security of wearable tech. As devices are able to collect an abundance of information about an employee, resulting privacy implications must be seriously considered before making them part of supply chain operations.

Businesses may ultimately be worried wearable technology will turn out to be a short-lived fad. In the past we’ve had hype around certain technologies that didn’t really take off. We always have to be a little bit sceptical about big technology steps in the supply chain industry.

Part of what makes wearable technology so exciting at the moment is that the field is in its infancy. We’re really at the beginning of this ‘wearable revolution’. Over the next five years, we’ll see tremendous leaps forward in the technologies that are being developed.

Markus Kückelhaus is director, research and development at DHL Customer Solutions and Innovation

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