People who work away from conventional office equipment sometimes urgently need information. Although mobile devices can fulfil this need, such devices usually require two-handed operation. A solution is smart glasses. These already exist, functioning as combined heads-up computer monitors and cameras. Some units are voice-controlled, allowing hands-free operation, whereas some are controlled via buttons or touchpads. Numerous models connect to mobile phones in various ways, including via Bluetooth. Early versions of the smart glasses concept were impractical. They connected to a heavy and bulky battery pack, but nevertheless still suffered poor battery life.
The EU-funded IRISTICK project developed a new type of smart glasses that solves these and other problems. Based on customer feedback about an earlier device, the IRISTICK team developed a substantially updated product. “We wanted to develop smart glasses that allow the wearer to interact with their Android smartphone applications via a touchpad and voice commands,” says project engineer Koen Schauwaert. “We also wanted the battery to last for a full 8-hour shift, and not to generate heat or electromagnetic radiation.” Achieving the 8-hour goal would have required another heavy and bulky battery pack. Early concepts had the pack worn on the head as well, but this would have put transmitters near the wearer’s brain and increased weight. Instead, the IRISTICK team decided to remove all wireless connectivity from the headset, and use a cable to connect an external pocket unit that provides power and receives all data. This in turn connects to the user’s smartphone, which provides the computer application, data processing and storage, plus internet connectivity. The glasses part of the system includes motion sensors, a central camera that relays the user’s viewpoint to a remote party, a zoom camera, a laser pointer, a light source, bidirectional audio and a heads-up display for the user. The unit includes a touchpad and audio controls; by saying the names of the buttons and input fields out loud, the user can navigate through the application. The voice commands have been tested to work in noisy industrial environments up to 90 dBA.
On-call expert assistance
One potential use for the system is when a worker needs remote expert assistance. “Here, the wearer puts on the device, while the expert controls its zoom lens and flashlight,” explains Schauwaert. “The expert can send screenshots with annotations, or a technical drawing, straight to the glasses display. Both workers can talk to each other to ask questions or give instructions.” The ability to obtain remote assistance this way saves the cost of having to send an expert into the field. In other cases, a user might work alone using the glasses screen to display instructions for a complex workflow. Warehouse workers could scan barcodes using the zoom camera. Researchers are prototyping the product’s next generation. Currently, the battery does not quite make it to 8 hours, but it is easy to replace and recharge. Further development may solve this problem as originally intended. The team plans to release a new version, in cooperation with a large industrial partner, during the latter part of 2020. The new system will offer field workers expert backup and numerous hands-free work options.
IRISTICK, smart glasses, touchpad, battery pack, field worker, heads-up display, hands-free, audio control