The breakneck speed with which COVID-19 has spread across almost the entire globe over the past weeks - and continues to impact lives and livelihoods around the world - has meant that many governments, individuals and firms have had to very quickly adopt new measures to protect people’s safety. In Belgium as elsewhere, we’ve seen many people now homeworking, for example, to facilitate social distancing.
Teleworking is only possible thanks to technology and it’s just one example of how people can continue to operate and communicate with no need to be in the same physical location. Other examples include the use of wearables to maintain machinery and other industrial assets. Should there be an issue, an operator can simply take a photo and send it directly to an expert at another location who can then provide instructions on how to fix it.
As well as enabling experts to be “in” many locations at once, using technology in this way also enables manufacturers to continue to call on the expertise of more experienced specialists for longer. Something that may be of real interest as governments raise the pension ages for workers. Not able - or not wishing - to be out physically in the field, older experts can continue to deliver support remotely.
The advent of smart glasses takes this to a whole new level. An operator wearing smart glasses can share what they see with an expert at a distance in an “I can see what you see” mode rather than via an image, enhancing the operation functionality of handsfree workers. This is exactly what PwC’s been working on for Signify along with Proceedix, Luxexcel, Open Manufacturing Campus and Iristick.
We’ve combined our expertise to deliver a smart glasses solution - with prescription lenses tailored to the user - for inspections on the shop floor, making the process voice-activated and entirely handsfree. The results of the project could have far-reaching implications not just for Signify, but for manufacturing firms around the world, and indeed elsewhere.
Let’s consider today’s COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare professionals around the world are working around the clock to help save the lives of those impacted. And are putting themselves at risk of infection in the process. Alongside the risk of infection, their physical presence limits the number of patients they can treat as it takes time to move physically from one location to another.
Why not bring in smart glasses? The number of people who need to be physically present at a patient’s bedside could potentially be reduced. In this way, smart glasses provide a solid solution to enable more people to literally stay home and save lives. Already in China's Zhejiang province, smart glasses with built-in thermal imaging capabilities are being used to screen the body temperatures of crowds to help identify COVID-19 cases in hundreds of people in minutes.
There can be little doubt that when we emerge on the other side of this crisis, the new normal we’re faced with will be very different to what we’ve left behind. And technology will play a leading role in what that new normal will look like. There remain questions around the use of smart glasses in terms of required IT infrastructure, insurance, legal concerns and more, but that shouldn’t prevent us from already considering their role in the future. We’ve adapted quickly to this crisis, perhaps it’s time to seize the opportunity to rethink the way we live and work and start designing that new normal already.