Advances in robotics, the Internet of Things (IoT), and augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR) are driving enterprise adoption of wearable technologies to improve worker productivity and quality, according to a Wednesday report from Deloitte.

While fears of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) replacing human workers remain, wearables have the potential to make those workers more valuable by enhancing their physical and perceptual abilities, the report noted. Wearables including sensors, smart glasses, smart watches, and exoskeletons are getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable for companies, and offer the ability to gather and process data in real time.

“Far from making workers obsolete, these technologies can improve their productivity, help them overcome physical limitations, or compensate for spotty skills,” the report stated. “And they give employers new ways to plan for the workforce of the future.”

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)

Vendors are increasingly offering Wearables as a Service and as end-to-end solutions, making them more attractive and easier to adopt in the enterprise, the report noted.

In developed economies like the US, a number of factors make wearables more attractive in the enterprise, including the aging workforce, skills shortage, rise in remote working, and increase in workplace safety regulations. Wearables can help company leaders navigate these issues by augmenting worker’s abilities in terms of increasing physical strength, providing step-by-step instructions, facilitating virtual interactions, and alerting for hazards. “All of this has the potential to significantly boost productivity and safety,” the report stated.

Here are four ways that wearables can benefit your workforce, according to the report.

1. Enhancing strength and endurance

Companies that require physical labor can equip workers with exoskeletons that support their body to help them conserve energy and avoid straining when carrying heavy loads. For example, in 2017, Lowe’s rolled out robotic exosuits with lift-assist technology for store employees. Ford also equips manufacturing workers with exoskeletons, and Audi, Gammon, and the US Navy are using or evaluating the tech, the report noted.

This technology is particularly useful for aging workers, the report noted, as it can help workers avoid overexertion and injuries.

SEE: Wearable Device Policy (Tech Pro Research)

2. Augmenting vision

AR and VR are increasingly being adopted in the enterprise for training, as well as collaboration and productivity purposes. Offering instructions directly in a worker’s field of view can help them work faster and better, augment their design and data analysis abilities, and improve collaboration with other team members, the report stated.

GE Aviation workers use smart glasses to offer mechanics instructions, which has improved efficiency by 8% to 12% while reducing errors, according to the report. And Coca-Cola technicians use smart glasses to share visuals with experts off-site to get their input, reducing delays and costs.

3. Empowering speech and hearing

Hearables and voice-controlled wearables can offer workers instant, hands-free access to instructions and other information with the ease of speaking to increase efficiency, the report stated.

For example, Lufthansa uses voice-based headphones that allow one technician to accomplish maintenance work that previously required two, as one would have to read out instructions. With the wearable, the maintenance checklist is converted to voice commands, which the technician can respond to and record their answers, according to the report.

4. Improving awareness

Wearables can provide faster task and situational awareness to workers, again to increase productivity and work quality. For example, the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport uses smart watches to alert cleaning crews when and where they are needed.

These tools can also improve worker safety by better monitoring the worker’s physical status and environmental conditions, and alerting them to when either becomes dangerous, the report noted.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Advances in robotics, IoT, and AR and VR are driving enterprise adoption of wearable technologies to improve worker productivity and quality. — Deloitte, 2018
  • Wearables have the potential to benefit workers by enhancing strength and endurance, augmenting vision, empowering speech and hearing, and improving awareness. — Deloitte, 2018