A frontline worker wears an assisted reality device in an industrial environment. (Photo: Business Wire)

A rugged, lightweight design is said to enable a ‘new way to work’ in today’s hybrid work environments

 December 8, 2021

VANCOUVER, Wash.—The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated what some say are “once-in-a-lifetime shifts” in the ways that employees work and collaborate. This global scourge is leading industrial companies to find creative ways to empower and engage their frontline industrial workers, especially with limited onsite support.

One of the results has been a surge in demand for industrial-strength, hands-free, assisted reality wearables. In response to this demand, RealWear recently unveiled a new family of assisted reality products, RealWear Navigator 500™.

RealWear Navigator 500™ is reported to offer a new modular platform, improved user experience, and comfortable ergonomics that empower frontline workers to perform work tasks hands-free, with unobstructed fields of view. As a result, it enables workers to perform tasks more safely, and for longer amounts of time, in a “new way to work” hybrid work environment, the company said in a release.

According to RealWear, the wearable product is an innovative platform that combines hardware, software, and cloud-ready services with a rugged design. Because RealWear Navigator 500 is one-third lighter and slimmer than the previous generation, it makes it easier for frontline workers to wear the device for their entire shift The hardware is designed as a modular platform with an upgradeable 48 megapixel (MP) camera system, a hot-swappable battery, Wi-Fi, and an optional 4G modem. A 5G modem will be available soon, the company said.

The wearable also features a voice-controlled user interface with what the company described as “unique noise-cancelation technology designed for high-noise environments.” RealWear reportedly has more than 200 optimized partner apps that support a variety of use cases, such as remote collaboration, guided workflow, and IoT and AI data visualization.

According to RealWear, assisted reality is a non-immersive experience that has become the preferred extended reality (XR) option for frontline industrial workers, especially where high situational awareness is necessary. Assisted reality experiences are closer to the physical world, versus virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) experiences that immerse workers in the metaverse, the company said.

RealWear Navigator 500 is said to have raised the bar for how assisted reality and other XR technologies are deployed at leading industrial companies. Frontline industrial workers at companies in the automotive, logistics, general manufacturing, food and beverage, and energy sectors, for example, can use RealWear Navigator 500 to gain real-time access to online information and expertise, the company said.

Early use cases for the RealWear Navigator 500 have focused on the need for remote collaboration. The wearable device provides workers with real-time, assisted-reality access to information needed to perform their jobs safely and efficiently. (Photo: Business Wire)

“With pandemic concerns continuing to press upon the global economy, how technology is enabling a ‘new way to work’ is very much in focus, particularly for industrial frontline workers,” said Andrew Chrostowski, chairman and CEO of RealWear, in a statement announcing the roll-out. “Today, we’re unveiling something far bigger than a product. The RealWear Navigator 500 delivers the next generation of work with a ‘reality-first, digital-second’ enterprise solution for remote collaboration, operational efficiency, and hybrid work in safety-critical industries.

“Assisted reality—more so than augmented or virtual reality—is designed specifically for the frontline worker who requires both hands for the job, striking the perfect balance of keeping workers 100 percent present and self-aware, with the ability to safely navigate industrial surroundings,” Chrostowski continued. “After all, nobody wants to be near hazardous equipment with their head stuck into the metaverse.”

The new features and capabilities offered by RealWear Navigator 500 are said to reflect feedback from “thousands of customers” that use RealWear’s assisted reality wearables on the shop floor, at construction sites, in manufacturing facilities, and in other dangerous environments. They include a patented, modular platform that enables customers to swap out specific modules, such as the camera, modem, and battery. The hot-swappable battery is described as “full-shift,” enabling workers to complete longer tasks over multiple hours without losing any work.

Also new is a camera system with a 48 MP sensor. The system reportedly can capture high quality photos in extremely low-light, and offers enhanced zoom in telephoto mode that allows workers to capture greater than 4X zoom while still maintaining full-HD (1080p) quality. The camera also includes advanced auto-focus and strong video stabilization, the company said.

RealWear Navigator 500 also features a clear, vibrant, adjustable display, as well as a light, sleek form factor that is said to withstand a two-meter drop-test without compromising the RealWear HMT-1’s IP66 ruggedness rating. Its noise-cancelling technology is reported to be “best in class,” offering reliable voice recognition in environments up to 100 decibels (dBA), the company said.

Although early use cases for RealWear have varied widely, they have focused on the need for remote collaboration. Applications were broadened to include guided workflow, document navigation, digital workflow, and, most recently, AI-enabled IoT data visualization.

“While much focus has been placed on the shift to remote work for office workers, there is an increasing awareness of the unique industrial use-cases that are shifting expectations about remote field service and support, especially in difficult, loud, and dangerous environments where consumer-grade technology solutions won’t cut it,” said Tom Mainelli, industry analyst for IDC, in a statement. “In the plant environment or the field, traditional laptop, tablet, or mobile devices are not the solution.

“Ruggedized wearables can now provide real-time, assisted-reality access to information, like the heads-up display in a jet pilot’s helmet, while assuring frontline industrial workers get the full field of vision and free hands required to safely do the work,” Mainelli continued. “Importantly, this is not simply new features and capabilities. What RealWear is deploying is an assisted-reality form factor that is part of a generational shift in how industrial companies will service and support their operations in the field and on the factory floor.”

Among the notable, optimized remote collaboration apps for RealWear are Webex Expert on Demand, Zoom, TeamViewer Frontline, Librestream Onsight Connect, AMA XpertEye, Oculavis SHARE, and Microsoft Teams, among others.

At the onset of the pandemic, RealWear and Microsoft announced that Teams on RealWear devices are fully optimized for hands-free Teams calls. From October 2020 to October 2021, Teams on RealWear adoption grew by a reported 251 percent, more than tripling the number of Teams users on the device.

“Microsoft Teams for frontline workers has grown tremendously thanks to partners like RealWear, and we expect RealWear Navigator 500 to take our success to new levels to accelerate hybrid work,” said Kristina Behr, Vice President of Product, Microsoft 365 Frontline Worker and Industry. “With RealWear Navigator 500, RealWear allows industrial frontline workers using Teams to quickly collaborate with remote experts to safely solve complex issues while keeping their hands free and maintaining full situational awareness.”

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