Posted on 02-28-2017 by Lucia Garza
Paperless warehouses in which pickers use smart glasses to find and sort the right cargo. Assembly lines where novice employees are fed real-time instructions through sleek headgear, enabling them to work like pros. Automated inspection stations that surpass even the most experienced inspector’s judgment.
Science fiction, right? Not according to The Cleantech Group, which outlines futuristic commercial applications just like these for enterprise-grade augmented reality (AR) technology. The possibilities are especially exciting for the logistics industry, where shippers, freight forwarders, and clients alike have long sought to leverage new technologies.
What Is Augmented Reality?
Not familiar with augmented reality? If you’re familiar with “Pokemon Go,” you already know a basic, consumer-facing version of AR in action. Appcessories describes AR as “the extension of physical reality by adding layers of computer-generated information to the real environment… any kind of virtual content or object, including text, video, graphics, sound, GPS data,” and more. By definition, AR expands and enriches the physical environment we experience every day.
Why Augmented Reality and Logistics Fit So Well
Of course, if “Pokemon Go” is your only point of reference, AR may not seem intrinsically practical. But logistics companies are finding new and powerful ways to utilize AR for cost-cutting, efficiency-enhancing purposes.
According to DHL, sorting and transporting cargo in warehouses accounts for 11% to 13% of total logistics costs. But many warehouses still use paper checklists and guides to direct pickers and sorters – an inefficient approach that’s prone to human error.
DHL’s report identifies several current and near-term use cases for AR-enhanced logistics:
Pick by vision: Using an AR headset (glasses), workers can browse a digital picking list, follow a navigation system to a specific item, identify that item on a shelf, and scan the item’s barcode – all without touching the item or using a paper picking list.
Transportation planning: AR headsets can help logistics personnel identify ready-to-load pallets, scan items in and out, and navigate the best route from origin to destination.
Warehouse planning: Planners can use AR headsets to walk through plans and workflows in new or redesigned warehouse environments – essentially, to test new configurations without actually building them out.
Benefits of AR in Logistics
AR-aided logistical operations will be faster and more accurate, meaning they’ll also be more efficient and less costly – two benefits with clear appeal to freight forwarding companies and their clients. In a hypothetical world (say, 10 years from now) in which AR headsets are as commonplace in warehouses as barcode scanners are today, merchandise will move through the supply chain quicker and cheaper, with fewer preventable errors.
A Promising Future
Those seasoned enough to remember the virtual reality (VR) mini-boom of the 1990s know that the tech community has been crowing about the commercial and practical potential of VR and AR for decades. Looking back, it’s clear that this first wave of AR hype was premature; processors simply weren’t powerful enough to support the lifelike graphics and super-low latency required for effective VR and AR applications.
However, the evidence suggests that this time is different: the reality (no pun intended) of AR technology has caught up with its many promises. That’s great news for shipping clients and freight forwarding companies, both of which are poised to benefit directly from increased implementation of augmented reality in logistics.