Wearable computers will change the workplace and work itself in profound ways. The fun in these early days is in watching the form factors and applications develop and grow. In an effort to learn more about efficiency and productivity improvements that wearables developed specifically for the enterprise environment could create in workplaces, I spoke with XOEye Technologies’ CTO, Jon Sharp, and the company’s CBDO, Anthony Blanco. XOEye Technologies is developing a set of solutions for the enterprise that includes integrated hardware, firmware and software layers. The company’s developer program rolls out in early April of this year. Release 1.0, including the XOne eyewear device; the XOLinux firmware layer for custom application development; and Vision, the cloud-based management suite, is slated for this summer.
Shaw: What do you see as wearable computing’s potential for change in the way we work, and how did that guide the direction you’ve taken with your product development to this point?
Blanco: We see this communication and interface connection being the next big activity stream, uniting people and data in real time. Telephone, fax, digital, etc. made communication more efficient. The next leap is to capture and communicate data in an efficient and comprehensive manner. This type of technology fits very well in that space. It can take a variety of shapes; our form factor is an eyewear device. We started with the idea of the first person point of view: live-stream video, two-way audio. Our leadership team has a strong background in and is geared toward the industrial space. We understand the needs of that customer. As we moved toward proof of concept in January of 2013, we also identified the enterprise space as viable for our technology.
Shaw: What workplace challenges are you targeting with your first release?
Blanco: In the 1.0 glasses device, which is a ruggedized, ANSI-certified device, you have something that is integrated into what is already part of an employee’s uniform in an industrial environment. With our telepresence, one-way video, two-way audio features, you can allow employees to diagnose equipment that is down, give real-time instructions, provide management support and train employees. The next addition is foundational barcode scanning; with that, we can allow customers to scan barcodes and integrate data into their existing solutions. A key benefit will be in preventing back injuries employees often suffer when picking up items to scan them. This is hands-free. In this way, one technology does several things. We think of the hardware layer of our solution as “the mouth of the dragon,” capturing data as the first step.
Shaw: Do you consider Google Glass and other eyewear products coming to market competitors?
Sharp: Android devices, like Google Glass, have historically been designed with intention for consumer use. I’d say that Google and others are competitors, but not direct competitors. The key distinction is that our solutions are developed based on embedded Linux, and optimized for wearables. We made that decision to provide something familiar to IT and developers in the enterprise environment. We are challenging ourselves to answer the question of what is good enough for the business. Ultimately, we are at the start of what will be a very large industry. The greater awareness created by other devices benefits all of us. It’s a great conversation starter.
Shaw: And I understand you just presented at CES 2014, as well?
Blanco: Yes, and it was wonderful. We got overwhelmingly positive feedback. We’d been working for so long, and we finally got to present our work to the general public. We’ve developed a platform, and now we can show everyone that there are a lot of ways you can go with it. We distinguish ourselves with our business model and our form factor.
Shaw: Tell me more about the custom development strategy you’ve put in place.
Sharp: The Vision application runtime is written in Java; we chose that for its familiarity in the enterprise environment. So that layer runs on a wearable device – including other wearables, not just ours -- with a set of APIs to allow development of wearable apps. It’s a different paradigm from other mobile app development, though with similarities, of course, to Android or iOS development. We’re using all open standards for video and audio, also, as we want to accelerate adoption in that way.
And then, the backend software, Vision, which is the mobile device management (MDM) component, pushes out to devices in the field remotely. With it, we create centralized management, where management groups in the organization can assign apps to devices within different groups, say, mechanical or maintenance groups, for instance.
That challenge that administrators face, the responsibility for management of hundreds or thousands of devices, is both about security and management. It’s at the core of what we want to provide as backend services. We want to be able to provide – and support – that many devices.