Voice-Based Wearables in the Enterprise
July 31, 2015 Aditya Kaul
Voice control is a powerful tool, especially when it comes to performing hands-free tasks in an enterprise setting. Voice-based wearables have been successfully implemented in the enterprise, especially in retail or warehouse environments, and have proven to be highly effective in speeding up tasks such as picking and sorting, improving accuracy, and increasing productivity as a whole. Employee communication on the shop floor is another application where voice-based wearables have been used. When compared to the use of handheld scanners in warehouse environments, or walkie-talkies on retail shop floors, voice-based wearables are easier to learn, set up, and operate.
Honeywell’s Vocollect and Theatro are two voice-based wearable solutions currently on the market. The two solutions are similar in functionality, in the sense that voice is the main input and output technology, doing away with the type of display screen that is usually present in smart augmented reality glasses. Both also come with a sophisticated backend system, which can be customized for any warehouse environment, converting a warehouse inventory list into a voice-based querying and entry system.
Honeywell’s Vocollect has a traditional form factor for a wearable with a headset and microphone. The system works by giving voice commands to the picker about where an item is located in the warehouse. Once the item has been picked, the picker can simply say, “picked item”. The picker can also check if the item is the right item by simply calling out the “item number” to hear the correct information. Locke Supply, a household hardware distributor in Oklahoma City, has used the Vocollect solution in its 30,000 square foot central distribution center that operates 10,000-12,000 lines per day, picked from an inventory of 27,000 stock keeping units (SKUs). The solution has been hugely successful for Locke Supply, as it has doubled the average pick rate for some items and the order accuracy has improved from 95% to 99%. Also, the training time was reduced from 3 days to 3 hours, saving a massive amount of effort and cost in getting pickers up and running with the new solution.
Theatro’s Wi-Fi voice-based wearable is a credit card-sized device that can be clipped onto a worker’s clothing or worn with a strap. There is also a separate earpiece that can be plugged into the device. The Container Store, a retailer for container and storage systems headquartered in Texas, has been using the Theatro solution on its shop floor for employee communication, replacing cumbersome handheld walkie-talkies. Workers can log in to the system every morning, with the system recognizing the user’s voice and also informing others on the shop floor of the new arrival. There are specific voice commands that can be used, like finding a specific employee, which then results in the system triangulating the location of a user and providing a response. Customized messages can also be sent to each employee, and the system can also set up separate groups, like a general sales group or specialists in home storage solutions. In terms of tangible benefits, training for the new system took less than 10 minutes and the store found that users heard, on average, 60% fewer messages in a given day, as the system filters the messages, but at the same time saw a 30% increase in messages going through.
While smart augmented reality glasses like Google Glass also use voice as a user interface, the Vocollect and Theatro solution bring some unique characteristics such as simplicity, lower cost, and familiarity in terms of the user experience. These unique characteristics should help voice-based wearables gain larger acceptance in retail, warehouses, or other enterprise environments that are not noisy, where voice could be used as the primary interaction mechanism.
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