Google Glass

Distracted Manufacturing: GM Takes Google Glass for a Spin

Aug. 13, 2014
GM is testing Google Glass on the factory floor. But is the risk worth the potential?
Copyright Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Since Google first unveiled its space age monocle last year, geeks and techies everywhere have been scrambling to find a single, practical use for the thing. So far without much success.

Sure, Glass can check email and surf the web, it can take pictures and videos and all that. But, so far, developers haven't come up with a compelling reason why people would want to do those things with a device stuck to their faces instead of just on a phone or computer.

Well, GM may have found one.

In his recent article on the Wall Street Journal, Jeff Bennett reveals how GM has recently begun testing these wearables on the plant floor for everything from on-the-line training to actual assembly.

"The automaker has also been tinkering with the photo and video capabilities," he writes. "Workers can take pictures of parts or trouble spots they come across in the plant and send the images to engineers for review on a computer screen."

The potential for this seems huge.

Getting new hires on the floor sooner, speeding assembly time, and spotting and resolving issues faster? Those are all gigantic wins for a lean-driven company.

If they prove out, it could mean big things for not only carmakers, but also the whole wearable industry.

But there are still some barriers to cross.

For one, as Bennett notes, there's the matter of safety glasses – a requirement for plant life, but not exactly Glass compatible yet.

Beyond that, though, there is still one very big, very important question to answer: Do we really want our workers walking around in factories and working on the line with a computer screen blocking their view?

At what point do the safety and quality hazards of distracted manufacturing outweigh the potential productivity?

That's not a question exclusive to Glass, of course. It's a basic question that should be asked with every new technology, every new installation, every new thing brought into any factory. And, in this case, it still hasn't been resolved.

So the original question endures: "Can Wearable Tech Work in the Factory?"

About the Author

Travis Hessman | Content Director

Travis Hessman is the editor-in-chief and senior content director for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest. He began his career as an intern at IndustryWeek in 2001 and later served as IW's technology and innovation editor. Today, he combines his experience as an educator, a writer, and a journalist to help address some of the most significant challenges in the manufacturing industry, with a particular focus on leadership, training, and the technologies of smart manufacturing.

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