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Growing demand among business customers for ‘real-time’ data that can be used to improve efficiency or help employees make better decisions is fuelling demand for a new class of technology tools – wearable technology.
For example, last week UPS, the US parcels and logistics group, rolled out a new type of ‘wearable’ scanning system for employees that speeds up the loading of packages into vehicles and provides more accurate and timely tracking information for its customers.
The new device, made by Motorola Solutions, the US electronics group spun off from the old Motorola group at the start of 2011, consists of a Bluetooth-enabled hands-free barcode scanner that is worn on a finger and a small terminal worn on the employee’s wrist or hip.
The ‘ring’ imager or scanner, which fits over two fingers, represents a major advance over an earlier system used by UPS because, unlike the earlier equipment that required employees to press a ‘trigger’ in order to capture a barcode image, the new system includes label-sensing technology that automatically scans the barcode. This allows UPS employees to capture and process barcode images more quickly.
Once the barcode image is captured, the ring scanner sends each package’s tracking information via Bluetooth to the terminal worn on the wrist or hip. The data are then transmitted over WiFi to the UPS facility network and ultimately to UPS’s global data centres to be stored and processed and made available for customers.
“It really is a big improvement,” says Juan Perez, vice-president of information services. The improved technology enables UPS to accelerate the transfer of package tracking data to customers and improves reliability through the system. Internally referred to as ‘link and load’, the scans are key to providing the tracking data that feeds the 32.1m tracking requests viewed daily on UPS.com.
Girish Rishi, corporate vice-president and general manager of mobile computing at Motorola Solutions, added: “The ring imager, in combination with our robust wireless network and wearable mobile computer, increases scanning efficiency and streamlines the barcode reading process, ultimately improving worker output and cost efficiencies.”
By capturing the service level and destination ZIP codes embedded in a barcode, the system can also verify whether the package is being loaded into the proper trailer or air container. An audible and visible alert identifies any package that is about to be loaded incorrectly to help UPS avoid routing errors.
UPS began using the new system based on Motorola’s RS507 Bluetooth ring imager last year and by the fourth quarter of 2013 all of its 1,383 facilities will be equipped with more than 38,000 such devices.
IMS Research, a UK-based research firm, published a report this week estimating that 14m wearable devices were shipped last year and that by 2016 the market for wearable technology will be worth at least $6bn. To date, IMS noted there are relatively few wearable tech devices, mostly focused on the healthcare and medical, and fitness and wellness application areas.