Kris Oldland, Editor-in-Chief, Field Service News, takes a look at a new line in wearable technology aimed at the medical sector launched by Nanowear and explains why he thinks it could be an essential aspect for field service worker safety...
Despite all the hyperbole (much of which I myself admit to being responsible for) wearables in field service has just never really taken off.
For example, the impact of the ultimate widespread failure of Google Glass did a lot to suppress the appetite for smart glasses. At the time of launch, Field Service Management (FSM) solution providers were queuing up to announce that they were working on a Glass app and the promise of hands-free working had everybody in the field service sector excited.
However, a mix of poor battery life and spotty voice recognition meant it never really met expectations. Add to this the fact that Google misjudged the product as something the consumer world was waiting for when the reality was it was always a product that should have been geared to towards industry and in particular areas such as field service, where remote workers could have benefited from such a technology.
Google misjudged the product as something the consumer world was waiting for when the reality was it was always a product that should have been geared to towards industryAnd while a raft of companies has since brought respectable, smart glasses to the market, with the pick of the bunch for my mind so far being Vuzix, the general feeling of disappointment with Glass is a hard obstacle to overcome. That said, with the rise in prominence of AR the smartglass market is getting a second wind, and I do feel that smartglasses will ultimately play an important role in the field service industry. But that time is likely to still be a few years away - when a couple of years ago it seemed imminent.
However, looking back with hindsight these seemed to be more about developing an app for a technology for the sake of it, and then trying to work a use case back from that position - which invariably is a lot less likely to yield results. Ultimately the benefit of having a stripped down version of a mobile app on a field service engineer's wrist offered little benefit - especially when most smartwatches need to be paired with a phone in the first place.
While for smartglasses there is a distinct home for them in the world of field service, smartwatches seem to be very much a technology that belongs in the consumer realm.Ultimately, while for smartglasses there is a distinct home for them in the world of field service, smartwatches seem to be very much a technology that belongs in the consumer realm.
However, while smartwatches and smartglasses dominate the conversation, they are not the form factor that wearables come in. In fact, it is a new form of wearable produced by Nanowear, a New York-based start-up launched Venk Varadan and his father Dr. Vijay Varadan, that has caught my eye as having some serious potential within our sector.
The official blurb states that Nanowear is a "connected-self technology platform for diagnostics and chronic disease management and is the first-and-only company in the world to have received FDA 510(k) clearance for cloth-based cardiac remote monitoring."
So what exactly does that mean and why do I think it could play a role in field service?
Well first let's explore the technology.
Essentially, it is a cloth based sensor that contains millions of nano-sensors per square inch. In practice, this means that the cloth could be used in any manner of clothing and it simultaneously captures and relays real-time data from the wearer for remote monitoring at any time.
Sensibly the team at Nanowear have aimed there first product released using the technology, SimpleSense, at the medical industry. This makes sense for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it takes into account that important first rule of launching a tech business - have a clear understanding of the problem your technology will solve. There is a lot of medical and bio-engineering expertise amongst the team at Nanowear and SimpleSense is designed to tackle a very specific problem - namely Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).
By tackling CHF SimpleSense can position itself very much as a cost-saving development for the core market of hospitals, making it that much easier for them to penetrate a market with traditionally complicated and drawn out procurement chains.
Even under a Trump administration that is dramatically reducing the level of red tape regulation, gaining FDA approval is no mean feat and that accreditation will carry a lot of weight and recognition far beyond the medical sector.Secondly, it is a fantastic area for proof of concept. Even under a Trump administration that is dramatically reducing the level of red tape regulation, gaining FDA approval is no mean feat and that accreditation will carry a lot of weight and recognition far beyond the medical sector.
Indeed, when I spoke with Venk Varadan to find out more about the technology he was at a break from a meeting with Google AI team exploring some of the other possible applications for their technology. Other rollouts into different sectors are absolutely on the long-term roadmap, but I think in identifying one core application for the technology, to begin with, Nanowear will not only be able to establish a solid working proof of concept to expand upon, but are also able to avoid the 'boil-the-ocean' mentality so so many start-ups for foul to.
All too often we see excellent ideas and emerging technologies get lost as their founders try to push each and every possible use case all at once. In taking such a structured and measured approach, Nonowear is doing well to avoid that temptation and ultimately are more likely to be better positioned to penetrate other markets when the right time comes.
With that in mind, let us consider the role this technology could play in the field service sector.
Field service is by its very definition a role in which we put some of our most important assets, i.e. the engineers themselves, in an isolated and often dangerous position. Field service is by its very definition a role in which we put some of our most important assets, i.e. the engineers themselves, in an isolated and often dangerous position. Whether it be working at height, working in remote areas with live electrical equipment or even just behind the wheel going from one job to another, field service engineers are at risk simply by the very nature of the fact they are very often alone.
A wearable vest utilising the Nanowear technology that tracks vital body data regularly such as cardiological or even neurological data could quite conceivably be integrated into a remote worker application.
The question is then how can the data be applied to reduce the risk of the lone worker? The first thought in my mind would be that should an engineer be in an accident when working in a remote location - whether it be a fall, a blow to the head or heaven forbid even possibly a heart attack, then assistance could be sent immediately. This could vastly increase the chances of recovery and in severe cases maybe even survival.
How about the possibility of linking the vest to a kill switch when in the vehicle. So again should the engineer suffer a heart-attack behind the wheel the vehicle just comes to a stop? With the sensors available in modern vehicles it is even possible that the vehicle would be able to reduce speed and pull over safely under its own steam in such a situation. Indeed, such a device would have saved countless lives just a few years ago when such a tragic situation happened in Scotland for example.
Taking things one step further could the right interpretation of the data if applied correctly potentially even predict something critical such as imminent heart failure and avoid an engineer putting themselves in a dangerous position in the first place perhaps?
In fact, it is as we turn to the interpretation of the data that the fullest value of Nanowear becomes apparent. Not only have they developed the actual hardware, but they have also established proprietary systems for interpreting the data as well.
"I think for us the real USP is that we offer the full stack. You can't call yourself a data analytics company if you don't have clean pipes. If your just pulling data from everywhere all of your focus is going to be looking for data that you want to see, as opposed to analysing raw data. We have unique data sets because of how we capture them with our cloth. That makes us a better analytics company down the road," states Vardan.
It is the duty of every field service company to do everything within their power to mitigate the risk that their field service engineers face when working on their own."It is a more complicated story because it's materials, hardware, analogue to digital transfer, user experience and analytics that is a big stack for people to get comfortable with and that's why the IoT has been broken up into those five areas. But we feel we are best placed to provide the services as well as the hardware as we have the best understanding of the data."
In terms of the potential for Nanowear being rolled out into the field service sector personally, I think the business case is very straightforward. It is the duty of every field service company to do everything within their power to mitigate the risk that their field service engineers face when working on their own.
So while the initial rollout for Nanowear has a very specific focus within the medical sector, as mentioned above, they have already identified a number of further potential applications for it and are actively exploring other.
From where I'm sitting, wearable clothing to protect lone workers simply has to be one of them.
Want to know more? Why not join Venk and the Nanowear team and as well as the Field Service News team in La Jolla for field service medical in Feb 26th to 28th. Field Service News subscribers have an exclusive 25% discount for this event and if you are a field service practitioner then you may qualify for a complimentary industry subscription
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