The augmented reality (AR) business – those headsets embedded in a pair of glasses that give users a heads-up display of information about what they see in the real world – has had an admittedly shaky start. The debacle of the consumer-oriented “Google Glass” technology in 2013, which immediately led to concerns about privacy, probably set the AR business back a few years.
But that doesn’t mean the idea of using AR technology has died in the freight logistics business. In fact, several startup companies are working now to create products for use that are specific to the cargo-handling business that are helping to reduce errors in warehouse management, train supply chain workers, guide drone aircraft through complex indoor spaces and perform maintenance in warehouses and distribution centers.
Here are five of the many promising uses of this exciting – and emerging – new technology for the air cargo market.
1) GetVu – This Bengaluru-based startup uses AR technology to enhance the efficiency of line pickers at a warehouse. With the heads-up display on the headset, workers can access order information and inventory locations in real-time as they fulfill orders for air shipment. The headset displays are also designed with a game-like experience, with visual clues about where the next product can be found, to make the work more engaging for the warehouse workers.
GetVu was recently chosen as one of the 10 startups participating in the Logistics Tech Accelerator program, created by Kaleido Logistics and RocketSpace, to connect disruptive logistics startups with other successful technology-driven companies to fuel cross-industry innovation. GetVu will spend the next few months working on their ideas within RocketSpace’s technological ecosystem to share innovation expertise, while also receiving support from Kaleido’s multiple corporate members and mentors.
This video shows some of the basic functions of GetVu’s PikVu module:
2) Superdraft’s Viz360 – AR technology is also being used to teach young entrepreneurs about planning for logistics systems. In a project in cooperation with Etihad Cargo, business, engineering and pre-law students from New York University Abu Dhabi this week finished an intensive, four-week course about designing efficient air cargo supply chain systems, using Viz360’s AR headsets, along with virtual reality and other sensory technology, the students were able to manipulate virtual cargo material in three dimensions to design and build cargo systems, and then display their work as a visual showcase.
During the course, the students also interacted with “Cargie,” a load-carrying robot capable of machine learning; “Paper Trail,” an app capable of tracking air waybills and other physical documents; and “HoloCargo,” a 3D-scanning and virtual reality system that can help cargo handlers build pallets and cargo containers.
3) Augmented Pixels – For those interested in using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to help keep track of inventory, this startup’s “Indoor Drone Navigation” platform is designed to reduce the probability of collisions or other accidents by human operator error. The platform can pre-programed, fully automated drone flights and landings, or can use AR visuals to help the pilots see around corners and perform visual inspections in tight indoor spaces. The modules use real-time simultaneous localization and mapping for mobile phones and AR/VR glasses. For outside uses, the technology can also create automated security paths around large properties, removing the need for hiring full-time security staff.
Check out the video for a glimpse at the Augmented Pixels technology used for drone guidance:
This video shows similar capabilities for autonomous robots that can be deployed in a warehouse:
4) Knapp KiSoft – Another pioneer in the AR order fulfillment business is Knapp, which provides several distribution center picking technologies, such as KiSoft RF, KiSoft Voice Picking, KiSoft Pick-to-Light and Vision Manual Picking, using headsets and voice controls. When workers reach their limits, Knapp also offers its Pick-it-Easy robots, to perform picking duties after hours. More recently, Knapp has used AR to enhance maintenance activities, in which technicians wearing AR goggles can view a remote Help Desk to review the schematics of motors, conveyors, robots or other equipment. The schematics can also be exploded, spun around in three dimensions and manipulated by the technician to help repair worn-out systems.
See this video for more of KiSoft’s capabilities:
5) DHL Supply Chain & Google Glass – Don’t count out Google Glass out just yet, because the technology is on a comeback this year with Google Glass Enterprise. Rather than aiming for the consumer crowd, this newer version of Google technology is focused on business processes, such as warehouse efficiency improvement. X, the subsidiary of Google parent company Alphabet and the current home of the Glass technology, earlier this year relaunched the headset with a focus on supply chain management.
DHL Supply Chain, which has been experimenting successfully with AR technology for many years, announced it would expand its AR program across different industries and conduct more pilot trials in the U.S. and U.K., using headsets made by Google Glass and Vuzix. In Australia, DHL Supply Chain has kicked off a proof-of-concept AR project with Canon. The AR software has also made the heads-up displays more dynamic. In addition to highlighting the container in which a worker should place the current item, the software creates a different color to highlight the next tote box, allowing the worker to continue picking, even in the case of a delay in the system.