Wearables are entering the workplace, and the companies that make them have a fine line to walk between empowering employees and turning bosses into Big Brother. ProGlove, a new product being developed in Germany, aims to fall squarely on the empowerment side of the equation.
Designed for factories and workshops where products are assembled and repaired by hand, ProGlove connects over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and features a rechargeable battery that can last through a full 8-hour shift. It combines motion sensors, RFID scanning, and visual and haptic feedback to create a wearable that can be used to train new employees, automatically document a worker’s progress, and provide insights into how a workspace is used.
The trick is to provide data and features that are useful to both employees and management without spilling over into surveillance, or encroaching on human flexibility and versatility. For instance, in some manufacturing processes it’s important that steps are done in a specific order — and if a worker reaches for the wrong tool at the wrong time, ProGlove can light up or vibrate to prevent a mistake or accident. Other processes are less rigid, and in those cases ProGlove can simply track what a worker is doing and automatically fill out a checklist (which in some factories is currently done by another employee, hovering over the first one’s shoulder with a clipboard!).
In either case, all management sees is an anonymized report that the task was completed successfully. Managers can also see aggregate data built up from multiple users over multiple shifts, such as heatmaps of how people move within a particular workspace. So while they can’t use ProGlove to enforce a breakneck pace of work, they can analyze the general flow of a task and rearrange the workspace to be easier to use.
Tarek Ouertani, a member of the ProGlove team, tells Postscapes the company has been asked whether its technology could be used to monitor individual performance more closely. Doing so would actually violate German labor laws, but even if the practice were legal, Ouertani believes it would be counterproductive. Giving bosses a detailed data set with which to micromanage their employees “is not something we’re interested in,” he says.
ProGlove took third prize in Intel’s Make It Wearable Challenge in 2014, and is now part of the Challenge Up! accelerator run by Intel, Cisco and Deutsche Telecom. The company hopes to raise a first investment round by the end of this year, before launching ProGlove in 2016. Early versions are already being field-tested with potential customers in a variety of industries, from logistics to manufacturing to retail operations.
Learn more in the video below.