Smartglasses manufacturer Vuzix was in talks with ARPost to do a profile piece about a year ago. The article never ended up happening. Some of us might have even taken it personally. But, as with most things, it makes more sense looking back.
“In March, when the whole world shut down, people came out of the woodwork,” Vuzix President and CEO Paul Travers said in a remote interview with ARPost in the final days of 2020. “It’s just been an incredible growth year for people who have gone from testing and playing to realizing that they need this technology.”
In our talk, Travers explained what Vuzix has been up to including how they’re helping medical workers handle everything from logistics, to the ambulance, to distanced rounds. The interview also touched on how Vuzix is saving lives by working with COVID vaccine distributors, and how XR will never be the same.
Vuzix makes a line of AR displays. Some of them are glasses as we often think of smart and AR glasses, but many of them fit to hardhats and safety glasses. The glasses can also work with prescriptions and come workplace safety rated. Right now, enterprise and medical make up the majority of use cases for the Rochester NY-based company.
“The M400 is defined as a general wearable tool and the number of places it’s being used – I can’t say I’m surprised, because we built it to do those things – but to see the world finally adopting this technology is so exciting,” said Travers, who sees Vuzix adoption increasing in warehousing and logistics in the near future.
Right now, the affordances that Vuzix grants in enterprise use cases – namely remote assistance – are becoming increasingly valuable in medical spaces. Vuzix has already been used in this way by medical professionals who used the glasses to film operations and get expert advice from another hospital or just without crowding the operating room.
In the age of COVID, the same technology is increasingly being used for “virtual rounds.” A single practitioner is able to make rounds while receiving real-time feedback from a distanced support team.
“One person uses the glasses and everyone else just watches on a zoom call,” said Travers. In the near future, Vuzix will be working with Verizon to bring 5G-enabled smart glasses to EMTs as well, so that they can provide improved emergency care before reaching the hospital. “On the 15-minute trip to the emergency room, if that patient needs something, they’ve got it.”
Medicine and logistics also overlap in the unique Envirotainer use case.
How Vuzix Contributes to Vaccine Distribution
Envirotainer is a company that specializes in cold storage on airplanes. As you may have read, the COVID vaccine must be kept at almost impractically low temperatures, which is one of the greatest obstacles to its circulation. Further, transporting sensitive vaccines during a pandemic comes with its own complications as entry into airports is limited.
Envirotainer specialists now use Vuzix headsets to ensure that the life-saving cargo is safely and correctly handled. While every use case is important to Vuzix, this one holds a special place for Travers.
“The people that are loading the planes and loading the refrigerated containers and the experts at Envirotainer work together [remotely] to make sure that the vaccine is being loaded correctly,” said Travers.
Hospitals have also become a no-fly zone in many respects. While healthcare providers and even administrative support staff are often able to carry about their work on the grounds, maintenance staff and tradespeople may be left outside despite the vital behind-the-scenes roles that they play in hospital operations.
“This is where COVID has become a big deal [for XR] because people can’t get into their plant anymore or they’re not allowed into the hospitals to maintain equipment,” said Travers.
The Future of Computing
The preeminent narrative within the XR community is that COVID-19 didn’t produce a demand bubble, it just accelerated adoption trends that were already happening. This line of thinking holds that XR was always the future and that it isn’t going anywhere when virus control measures are relaxed.
“We believe this is the future of computing and smart glasses will ultimately replace the phone… Once this works, once it’s on a pair of glasses, people will not use it on a phone anymore,” said Travers. “This is the beginning of a change. AR smartglasses are, in many ways, going to be the future of computing.”
Vuzix plans on being a part of that future. While they didn’t drop any hints that they plan on edging into the consumer market, their next-generation model, expected to be available later this year, looks surprisingly wearable. The design is the result of improving technology as well as years of user feedback.
“We have a museum of all of the products we’ve done over the years,” said Travers. “We’ve learned a lot, and our next-gen products have always incorporated feedback from the field.”