Wearable Computing

Wearable Computers for Hands-free Efficiency

wearable computerThe term “wearable computer” has a much broader definition than it had just a few years ago. Today when we think of a “wearable computer” we might first think about applications in the consumer world such as “smart watches” and wrist-worn devices that are used for health and fitness applications. No doubt that the wearable computer has come a long way for consumer applications. But for industrial applications, for example inside a warehouse, those devices just don’t have the versatility or necessary functionality. The industrial user needs a more feature-rich device.

Industrial Wearable Computers

Industrial wearable computers have been around for years, but as with any other technology, they have evolved and improved over time. In most cases, users are required to wear the devices for a majority of their shift so, as you can imagine, comfort is paramount. They will also need to use the device to interact with their host software application, such as a warehouse management system and that will generally mean the presence of an LCD screen, and most likely, a barcode scanner.

Comfort and Ergonomics of Wearables

The two things that will impact comfort and ergonomics more than anything are the size and weight. Again, the device is likely being worn for all or most of a shift, so anything that is too big and too heavy will not be well received. Unfortunately, what is “too big” or “too heavy” is very subjective. Some people are simply built better for lugging around a weight strapped to their arm. The challenge is that the device needs to be of ample size to sport a display big enough to be practical. The display needs to be able to present the minimal amount of necessary information in a way that is easily viewable. It also needs to be a touchscreen, so “buttons” on the screen need to be suitable in size. The device might also need to support a small, tactile keypad. Select a device with a reasonable screen size, not necessarily the largest screen size. Strike a balance.

The key to somewhat offsetting the size of the device, is selecting one with a low center of gravity, meaning that it sits as close to the arm as possible. If the device is perched on a thick mount and then attached to a strap for the arm, the device will tend to feel more unstable and less comfortable. The further away the device sits from the arm, the more uncomfortable it will feel. Select a device with a low-profile attachment so that the wearable computer hugs the arm as close as possible.

Battery Power

Wearable computers are, of course, battery powered. Logic dictates the bigger the battery the longer the device can stay in operation. However, the trade off is weight. The battery alone can make up one third, or more, of the device. Buying the largest extended battery available may make sense at the outset, but if it increases the weight of the device another 10-15%, is it worth it? Is it necessary?

Tactile Keypads

Dragonfly with keypadMost wearable computers will have an option for tactile keypads. This is usually driven by the needs of the software application. If substantial information must be keyed, or manually entered, it may not be practical to do it with the touchscreen. Bringing up a keypad on the display may take up screen room that’s not available, even obscuring data that needs to stay in view. Also, touchscreens are notoriously error prone. There’s a reason someone developed “auto correct” software for our smartphones. Unfortunately, it won’t work when entering quantities or inventory locations. There may be times when the use of an attached tactile keypad is unavoidable, but it will add to the size and weight of the device.

AML Wearable Devices

Wearable Computer

The Dragonfly wearable computer is designed to be worn on the arm for hands-free mobility. Dragonfly has an optimal screen size at 4.3″ and includes the QCS6490 high-performance processor. 

Ring Scanners

The AML WSC-1600/2700 ring scanners are designed to be paired with the Dragonfly for barcode scanning. The WSC-2700 includes a near/far scan engine capable of scanning barcodes more than 40ft away. 

Wearable Barcode Scanners

wearable scanner with hand strapWearable computers generally don’t have barcode scanners integrated into them like a handheld mobile computer does. Doing so would require some talented “Spiderman” action when it comes to aiming and would probably still be awkward. The most logical approach to barcode scanning with a wearable computer is with a small compact device such as a ring scanner that is strapped either to the forefinger or is attached to a strap that allows it to sit on back of the hand. In both cases, the device is triggered by a small switch activated by the thumb. This approach allows the user to still have both hands free, able to grasp and hold objects as usual.

These devices can be connected to the wearable computer in one of two ways. One, the device can be connected via a short cable running from the scanner to the wearable computer. The advantage is that the scanner doesn’t need to be “paired” with the device. It is literally hardwired. The disadvantage is that, even though it is a short cable, there is a very likely risk that throughout the day, it will get caught or snagged on other objects, potentially creating a safety issue.

The alternative method is to connect the scanner to the wearable computer using a Bluetooth connection. The scanner can be “paired” to the wearable computer such that all data transfers are done wirelessly, eliminating the need for a cable and the potential safety issues. When selecting a wearable computer, look for one that supports a more robust method of pairing Bluetooth devices. The conventional method used on smartphones requires the user to select a target device from a list of available devices it can “see”. In some cases, that list can be very long and very confusing, and prompting mistakes when pairing. Look for a wearable computer that offers an easier, more definitive method of pairing.

The Dragonfly Wearable Computer

dragonfly wearable computerConsider AML’s Dragonfly Wearable Computer for your wearable computing needs. This American-made, Android-based device packs all the power necessary for virtually any distribution or manufacturing application requirements. It’s ergonomically advanced, comes with a battery equivalent to most extended-life batteries, sports a right-sized display, and comes with a host of onboard software applications for quick and easily deployment and operation. The Dragonfly is manufactured in the USA, with USA-based technical support.


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About AML

AML was founded in 1983 to respond to a need in the barcode data collection marketplace for high performance, easy-to-use, and cost-effective barcode and data collection products. Our goal is to provide sensible solutions for mission critical activities, to improve efficiency and productivity, and to make barcode data collection applications worry-free. 

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