"There’s only one thing more boring than listening to other people’s dreams, and that’s listening to their problems."
Since making a couple of bold predictions on wearable tech recently, I’ve had a couple of people approach me to disagree. I’m not surprised by this as the consumer trend for wearable technology shows no signs of slowing down in terms of innovation and market entrants. Of all the predictions I’ve made on emerging technology in the past few years, this one is on the shakiest ground, so I am prepared to look silly with this one, but as I said in my presentation, "I just don’t see the use cases."
I think this is the central point to people’s disagreement. I’ve had a couple of use cases suggested and both, I know for a fact, are undergoing research and development within my company, Flatirons Solutions and with one of our competitors, Comply365. Acquaintances of mine from both Boeing and Airbus have also called me out on this, so it’s worth defending my stance here. Or at least justifying why they’re all wrong.
Smart Safety Goggles
The first suggested use case I was provided was fitting Google Glass with safety lenses and using them as Smart Safety Goggles. This would allow users to carry out critical and hazardous tasks with personal protective equipment (PPE) whilst allowing them to refer to technical content and data and keeping their hands free. I have to admit that this is indeed a valid use case for Google Glass in aerospace maintenance until you build a business case. Reading a manual whilst hands free would save valuable seconds and even minutes on certain maintenance tasks: Specifically hazardous tasks which required the application of additional PPE such as gloves and overalls. Although such task instances are widespread, the frequency of occurrence would make the justification for smart googles cost prohibitive. Added to this the sheer cost of Google Glass then the lack of feasibility becomes apparent.
Google Glass are available to purchase by invitation only at around $1500. I think we need to see a 90% to 95% drop in price before we see anything like a viable solution for this idea of hands free technical content. I think it is safe to say that this could be a few years off yet.
Wrist Worn Pagers
It was suggested to me that the current crop of Android powered smart watches by the likes of Samsung are industry ready for messaging and paging. A wrist worn device would allow critical messages, emails and work instructions to be noticed compared to a conventional smart phone. Again, I can’t disagree here, but taking even the faintest glimpse at a business case and the argument falls apart.
How often is a conventional mobile phone inadequate for maintenance staff, ground staff and pilots?
Not very often.
Would a smart watch replace a conventional mobile phone?
Almost certainly not.
So again, we have a limited use case with a huge investment outlay as you would need to equip staff with both the watch and the companion device. Whilst I admit that the smart watches will improve in scope, capability and pricing, we are a long way off from a viable business case. In the 90s, it was common place to wear pagers on belts. Such devices were only a few dollars, compared to the several hundred dollars that a smart watch would cost. If the smart watch is really addressing a genuine business need for this use case, then I would suggest raiding eBay and picking up a load of twenty year old vintage pagers for a few dollars instead.
I know I’ve always said that business cases are stifling innovation, but in my mind things don’t stack up. I don’t need to even think about numbers to know that this technology is not ready yet. By all means, experiment with the concepts and the ideas, but please don’t pretend that we’re close to seeing wearable tech become pervasive in the aerospace industry for a few years yet. Aerospace MRO has shown little sign in the past of being early adopters of consumer technology. Aerospace MRO has been the last to adopt the current generation of consumer tablets in the aerospace sector and many airlines and maintenance organisations idea of mobility is running on a nine year old Toughbook running Windows XP. Unless we have a radical drop in the price of wearable tech or a major paradigm shift brought about by a new market entrant leapfrogging the existing players, then we are not going to see anything other than a slow burn for wearable technology in aerospace MRO.
Just over an hour ago, I got an alert to check in for my return flight to London from Austin Texas with British Airways. I used the British Airways iPhone app to check in, which had all of my credentials pre-filled, so all I needed to do was make the usual declarations, confirm number of bags to check in and choose my seats. For some reason I had been allocated a middle seat, 22B, so I made my choice of a window seat which I find to be more comfortable on an overnight flight. I chose 22K. All OK so far.
So I get my boarding pass and it shows 22B. Hmmm…. Not good, especially on a red eye. So I try to change my seats again, without any luck. So I fire up my laptop and try and do it online via a regular browser. Also no luck, but there’s one screen which says I am allocated seat 22K… However if I try to check in again or reprint my boarding pass, it always revert back to 22B.
So I start looking for a contact number to call. Luckily the US based call centre is still open. I ring at 1833 Central Time. I know this, because I call on Skype and the call is logged. Unsurprisingly I get put on hold. Eventually the call is answered at 1858
The guy on the phone tells me there is a computer glitch and I am to ring back tomorrow. I refuse to accept this response, because I don’t think there’s a glitch I think he is that he is about to go home as the call centre closes on the hour, but when I ask him to admit that, he tells me that the centre is open for a further 4 hours, and that I can call back later tonight or tomorrow. He confirms that someone will be able to help me with seat reallocation tonight.
I hang up.
However I decide to call right back, but guess what?
The call centre is now closed.
So I do a bit of tweet raging and now I’m writing this. I can handle technology failing me and I can handle call centres being closed on a Sunday night, but what I am very upset about is the blatant lies of the call centre guy. More later if I get anywhere with this….
Yesterday I flew on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner for the first time. It was on a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Austin, Texas. I was quite excited about the flight as its not every day that you step on the most advanced passenger aircraft.
So much has been written and said about the B787: The technical problems, the delivery delays, but what is interesting to me is the amount of data generated. Obviously as a paying passenger I had next to no overview of the operational side of the aircraft, but I was subjected to the passenger experience.
I have to say, the Dreamliner is quite a cool looking aircraft, with the swept back wings and the cool grey interior. The cabin was not as spacious as I was anticipating, but the 3 rows of 3 seats layout did make the cabin seem a bit more roomy than the B777 for example. As you would expect, the brand new IFE looked impressive with almost 10 inches of screen and a USB charger on each seat. The other space age touch was the lack of window blinds. Instead there was a dimmer switch on each window which electronically tinted each window to a cool, deep blue. The crew obviously had an override switch for this feature as the tinted windows slowly brightened just before our descent for landing.
However, that’s the extent of my positive news of my passenger experience. I was most disappointed by the cramped conditions whilst seated on this flight. I was in seat 31A which was on the port side of the aircraft in a window seat, one row back from an exit row, and I’m struggling to remember ever being more shoe horned into a seat. This fact was made more remarkable by the fact that I was sharing a row of three seats with only one passenger. I’m so glad that the middle seat was unoccupied otherwise I might have have lost both legs to thrombosis on this nine hour flight. I have to admit, that being 6 foot and three inches, most economy flights are not the most comfortable of experiences, but the pitch on these seats was crazy. What made this worse was that the seats in front had so much hardware obstruction underneath, that even if my legs had enough room to be placed in front of me, there was no way that my feet would have been able to to have been placed sensibly.
I think the whole passenger experience of the Dreamliner can be summed up by one thing. There had obviously been quite a lot of design and manufacture effort that had gone into the cabin toilets. The lighting, the way the doors opened and even the less aggressive toilet flush, but what really stood out for me was that when you lifted the toilet lid and seat, they didn’t stand up on their own, which any guy with lots of fluid on board would testify is a major fail.
Today I was reminded of a quote of mine from a few years ago regarding thinking big and challenging the impossible. It’s from my presentation Why is MRO software so complicated? which I first gave in Singapore back in October 2010.
"Four kinds of persons: zeal without knowledge; knowledge without zeal; neither knowledge nor zeal; both zeal and knowledge."
One of the technologies that was debated at the recent Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT conference in Miami was wearable technology. I have to confess that I’m not a fan and this was something I mentioned in my keynote presentation. Maybe it’s because the genre is a derivative of the Bluetooth headset, which is a fashion accessory, it seems, reserved for the worst kind of loudmouth sales trolls, or because I’m just getting old and cantankerous, but I simply don’t get it. If the adoption of mobility in the work place has taught us anything it is that investing in a new technology without any real understanding of how it should be used is a waste of time and effort.
Google were amongst the first to show us their vision of a utopian future with the Google Glass which offered us the kind of head up display usually reserved for fighter pilots and robot assassins from the future. I can see the benefits of augmented reality in the supermarket of the future to allow me to know which variety of Soylent Green has fewer calories without the hassle of reading the label, or to know which aisle I am in without committing my movements to memory.
Joking aside, there are obviously some appealing examples of some very niche use cases, such as with assisting medical surgery or with helping those with disabilities, but I’m really struggling to understand the wider consumer or business appeal for this kind of technology. Virgin Atlantic recently announced that they were experimenting with how Google Glass could enhance passenger experience, presumably in order to more efficiently access company CRM systems. This kind of forced innovation doesn’t represent a leap forward in customer experience, it just creeps me out at the thought of the overbearing invasion of privacy. Sure, we would all like for flight attendants to know our drinks preference, but whatever happened to just talking to customers?
Perhaps more appealing to certain sectors of the consumer market are fitness trackers like the wrist worn Fitbit, Nike Fuelband and Jawbone. These devices are being used in the business world in a limited sense to help encourage employee wellbeing and to potentially reduce health insurance costs, but the prospects for a true enterprise deployment of activity trackers are limited. The idea of tracking employees and assets via RFID tags and other near field communication methods is not a new one. What activity trackers offer is an active device which can log in detail movements and activities whilst automatically synching with management software. This kind of device can offer much more scope than a passive RFID tag and could be used employed for more detailed activity and location tracking. This has implications for time booking, identity and location use cases. However personnel tracking can be a divisive subject for the work force and unions alike. I’m all for improving efficiencies of tracking resources, but as the cheaper RFID technology has not been widely adopted I don’t hold any hope for wearable activity trackers in the very near future.
Also worn on the wrist is the smart watch. To me this is simply another device offering the same benefits of a smart phone, only slightly more conveniently worn on the wrist. This benefit is counteracted by the limitations with device size and therefore screen real estate. Comply365 are promoting innovation with smart watches to alert uses of text messages and notifications, but this strikes me as a very expensive alternative to 1990s pager technology. Maybe as phones get bigger and the requirement for a phone AND a tablet becomes less of an issue, this will open the door for a smaller companion device like a smart watch, but what does a watch offer that isn’t already available and better served by a conventionally sized smart phone?
Part of the problem with the current crop of wearable technology devices is platform fragmentation. At present there is no single go-to platform for wearable device manufacturers and developers. Google are addressing this with the recent announcement of an Android software development kit for wearable devices, there are even rumours of Apple expanding their ecosystem in iOS8 to include health related apps which would suggest the embracement of wearable tech. This will see improved interconnectivity between devices and use case innovation. Forrester claim in a recent report that wearable technology is scheduled to become pervasive in the business world by 2024, but with current privacy concerns, security implications and a near to non-existent eco-system there will need to be some major re-imagination of wearable technology in the next few years in order to convince me of a viable future in the business.
Of course I could be totally wrong on this. Let me know what you think.
This year’s Aircraft Commerce Airline & Aerospace MRO & Operations IT Conference in Miami has come to a close and I’m heading back to the UK. This was my fourth year attending and speaking at this conference, but the first time that I had the keynote slot. I hope I didn’t disappoint the audience, who it seemed had fairly high expectations for something new. Here’s what I delivered.
I decided to talk a little about the current state of mobility in aerospace and add in some thoughts on the future of where mobility is heading. It was pretty well received (I think) and I had some very kind comments and one or two debates on some of the more controversial and provocative themes that I discussed. My slides were featured as a presentation of the day on Slideshare, so I’ve managed to find a wider audience than just those at the conference, which is always a great thing.
Apparently audio of my presentation has been recorded, so I’ll post that here as soon as I’m able.