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18 October 2016

Wearing the future 

Although wearable technology has not yet achieved the mainstream popularity many expected, the true potential of these products may well lie in the workplace.

Already, retail productivity is benefiting from wearable wrist displays, wireless headsets and tech lanyards, all of which provide on-the-go information. Meanwhile, chip-bearing armbands in warehouses can streamline logistics, track goods and measure workers’ movements.

Wearable gadgets are changing the game for many employers – increasing production line efficiency, keeping track of employees’ health in “wellness” programs, and boosting industrial safety.

The benefits of such innovation can be impressive – one study, for example, suggests that wearable tech can increase productivity by as much as 8.5%.

The value of the data generated from the devices is huge, allowing organizations to learn how human behavior, for instance, impacts productivity, performance and well-being.

Consider BMW’s spare parts plant in Dingolfing, Bavaria, where hi-tech gloves have replaced hand-held barcode readers. By shaving a few seconds for workers, BMW estimates that the plant gets an additional 66 hours of productivity per day.

Beyond increased efficiency, wearable tech is also making workplaces safer.

Truck drivers at select Rio Tinto coal mines, for example, are using “SmartCaps,” hats with a sensor that clocks drivers’ alertness, reducing fatigue-related incidents.  

However, as devices gather more personal and biometric data, the lack of rigorous encryption and other safeguards raises personal data protection concerns, with increased chances of data leaks and theft.

Employee satisfaction and morale can also suffer if these tools are seen as symptoms of an oppressive working environment.

Industry leaders, though, argue that the potential of wearable devices outweighs their risks.

That’s one reason why the wearable technology market is projected to reach over $31 billion by 2020 – an average annual growth rate of 17.8%.

Some companies have even begun testing microchip implants in their employees, allowing them to swipe into the office and set alarm systems. Indeed, it is hard not to feel like we are approaching the world in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall.

We may not be on the verge of mining on Mars, but this still-fledgling technology will certainly redefine many businesses and industries.