According to Forbes, the wearable tech market will be worth $34 billion by 2020, with experts predicting over 400 million wearable devices in use by that time.
When most of us think about wearable technology, things like Apple Watch, Fitbit and posture monitors usually come to mind. But they also have the potential to help companies improve in areas like safety and efficiency, and the aviation industry is no exception.
Today, we’re exploring how wearables can have an impact on aviation safety, from streamlining maintenance with smart glasses to preventing worker injuries.
Aviation Maintenance and Wearables
Years ago, Google Glass looked as good as dead, despite all the hype leading up to the release. Saturday Night Live even got in some laughs with a Weekend Update sketch where Fred Armisen awkwardly jerks his head and yells out commands repeatedly, all while claiming it’s so easy and “nobody can even tell.”
But Google Glass has seen a rebirth in its Glass Enterprise Edition aimed at businesses. In the aviation industry, a primary application of this technology is in the area of maintenance operations. Smart glasses allow for hands-free access to work instructions. They also allow maintenance professionals to stream live images to remote experts to answer questions and solve problems faster.
The result? Better information, fewer errors and less time needed to complete maintenance requests. In fact, GE showed the technology helped improve the efficiency of mechanics by 12%.
Wearables for Training
Another application for wearables could come in the form of employee training. Commercial airlines have tested Microsoft’s HoloLens, a type of mixed reality headset that allows users to interact with holograms to train engine mechanics.
Training for engine mechanics typically involves textbooks, with hands-on training restricted to jets that aren’t in use. With HoloLens, mechanics have the ability to see the engine and virtually take it apart without the need for textbooks or planes. All in all, it has huge implications for completing training faster while providing more experiential learning opportunities.
Smart uniforms could be the wave of the future for commercial airlines, with applications for both cabin and ground crews. A European airliner recently commissioned a set of prototype uniforms with hundreds of LED lights that let crews communicate with each other and with passengers. The ground ops version also comes with LED functionality, plus smart fabric to keep workers dry and sensors to monitor environmental conditions.
Smart watches may also become more prevalent for crews. Garmin, for instance, has invented a smart watch specifically for pilots, providing navigation, weather and flight logging.
Wearables for Workforce Safety
In addition to helping keep the public safer, wearables also have the ability to transform how companies manage employee safety. Wearable devices allow safety teams to remotely monitor and provide advanced alerts based on:
- Toxic gas concentrations, noise levels and temperature.
- Pulse and breathing rate.
- Movements, gestures and activity.
When linked to the aviation Safety Management System (SMS), this data will also provide more information to help prevent and predict future incidents.
Wearables, Data and Security
While wearable technology definitely carries with it a certain cool factor, there are some practical concerns companies need to consider. First, how will they manage the large volume of data provided by wearables? Just as important, how can they integrate wearable devices into their operations while protecting aircraft cybersecurity?
Advanced analytical tools and data professionals will be a big part of leveraging the information companies glean from wearables. It’s an important factor, given the growing shortage of data analysis talent.
In terms of cybersecurity, companies will need to think about how they will keep certain data secure, such as personal health data related to industrial hygiene monitoring. They also need to protect cybersecurity of onboard systems, with hackers pointing out that it’s possible to hijack aircraft through vulnerabilities in in-flight entertainment systems.
Some of the applications discussed here (like the futuristic uniforms) may be years away from widespread adoption, and important questions still need to be answered in terms of security. But as far as demand and imagination goes, there’s no question that wearables are ready for takeoff in the aviation industry.