RealWear: Assisted reality is saving time and lives on the frontline

Technology has become integrated into every aspect of the way we work. But whether you’re updating a document on your iPad, or dialing into Zoom from your laptop, this tech is not hands free. So frontline workers like paramedics, engineers, mechanics—people who have their hands tied doing their job—often miss out on the edge and convenience of computers. That’s where Assisted Reality and RealWear’s incredible suite of hands-free, voice-enabled head wearables comes in.

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Technology has become integrated into every aspect of the way we work, especially for people who spend a big chunk of time sitting at a desk for their job. But whether you’re updating a document on your iPad or dialing into Zoom from your laptop, this tech is not hands-free. So frontline workers like paramedics, engineers and mechanics, people who have their hands tied doing their job often miss out on the edge and convenience of computers. And that’s where assisted reality and RealWear’s incredible suite of hands-free voice-enabled head wearables comes in. “We are unique, I think, in positioning ourselves as a wearable company that is truly focused on the frontline professional,” says Chairman and CEO Andrew Chrostowski. “We care about productivity and safety, and we’ve designed our products around the idea that a connected worker is a safer worker and a more productive worker.”

About RealWear

Headquartered in Vancouver, Washington, on the site of the army barracks in Fort Vancouver, RealWear has a unique corporate environment. nestles among trees and walkways, it is a historic facility outfitted with the latest technology to develop the world’s premier wearable computer. From broad brim MSA style for mining to hats that are used in climbing 200-foot wind towers, or the traditional hard hat that might be used on a construction site, each has adapters to ensure the RealWear device fits perfectly, making it “super easy” to fit the way the workers are already functioning. “We like to adapt to how they work, not try to force them to adapt to ours,” Chrostowski says. And just like these hard hats are designed for abuse, so is the RealWear product. It’s designed IP66 that you can drop it six feet onto concrete, you can wear it out in the rain, you can throw it in the back of your pickup truck, or you can drop it in the mud and it will still be operational.

RealWear’s Navigator platform

Of course, the best way to experience RealWear’s Navigator platform is to wear it. The horseshoe-shaped device clips to hard hats, baseball caps, or a headband strap, whether PPE is required or not. It’s super lightweight and designed to be worn all day. When a worker puts on a Navigator 500 or 520, they’re presented with a monocular display, meaning it can be seen on either eye, left or right. It appears as a 10-inch tablet held at arm’s length, full-color display, HD, which allows them to see what you would see if you’re staring at your tablet computer. A home screen with icons. The difference is instead of touch and gesture to navigate between icons, you’re using voice. Every part of that screen is keyed to be a command—and it will do it in 17 languages. You can identify a workflow, a document, any app that’s there, and you can navigate between long menus by moving your head slightly to scroll through long lists.

Safety first

Augmented reality is an important part of understanding how we interface with a three-dimensional world; this is something that PTC has focused on a lot in terms of 3D. The challenge that you have with a frontline worker is that these very immersive ‘data first, reality second’ environments, take away your focus from what could be a dangerous environment, that six-inch step in front of you, that co-bot that’s moving next to you. RealWear has focused on assisted reality, which is a step down from that, and gives you a viewing experience similar to how an airline pilot looks down at their instrument panel, or a driver can glance down at their dashboard while retaining situational awareness. “That safety portion of having full situational awareness, and the ability to get the information that you need, when you need it, was built in from the beginning with safety as a mindset,” says Chrostowski.

“Predator vision”

The infrared camera, says Chrostowski, gives “predator vision” to frontline workers. “You’re able to see not only what those temperatures are, but the optical is overlaid with the thermal in a fused video, meaning you also have spatial relationships. If you had a nameplate on your shirt, I’d be able to read that, whereas if I was looking only in pure thermal you would not.” If you think about a frontline worker going to an electrical box and opening it, you have to be able to read the numbers on the breakers as well as seeing what the breaker temperatures are, if you’re looking for a change there.

Noise reduction technology

If you’re going to have a voice-controlled system, it needs to be able to operate in a high-noise environment. You can imagine the frustration if you’re a frontline worker, working hands-free, giving voice commands, and you weren’t getting the response you want from the system. We’ve put a lot of energy, IP and technology into that noise reduction and voice recognition. When you want to connect a frontline professional to a meeting, it has to be easy to want to use it. Simply launching the hands-free Zoom app, designed by RealWear with Zoom, and giving the command to scan QR code will allow you to enter the meeting without taking your hands off tour tools. We can do the same thing with PTC Chalk, Microsoft Teams, TeamViewer, and more. Combined with its noise reduction technology, which allows the user to be heard even over background noises, this ecosystem is what makes the system so valuable to frontline workers and customers.

Work smarter

We now have several generations of digital natives coming into the workforce, so it’s absolute cognitive dissonance to hand someone who lives their life completely in their smartphone and their tablet. They come to work, they must put that down, and someone gives them a manual and a clipboard and a pen. Those days of accepting that’s the way we do it are just no longer making sense. Industries that adapt these technologies to the way people work in their personal lives and outside, and bringing those advantages to the workplace, are going to find workers more interested in doing some of these more physically challenging jobs, because they’re going to feel they have the right tools to get it done. I think it not only addresses the companies' need to get things done better, safer, and faster, but it addresses the way people want to work today, which is to work smart.

The human-centric approach

There are two views of the future: one that’s human-centric, and one that sort of automation-centric. RealWear focuses on the value that the person brings to these frontline roles. And if you think about a voice assistant like we have in our homes—many of us work with our smart tablets or smartphones—voice is going to become the interface to these AI systems that are going to support the systems of record. So when you think about the user, remote intelligence is going to provide them with context and information as they need it in the workplace. It’s going to make it even faster and easier for frontline professionals to get the job done, and do what they do best. Have that human-centric approach to things. And that’s not limited to industry.

The future of work

At the Special Warfare Medical Group (SWMG), where they train all the Special Forces medics, they’ve demonstrated a medic in a moving vehicle, treating a patient connected to a satellite link to another doctor, and they’re walking them through trauma cases that they might not otherwise be able to save. And so really, you can apply this idea of doing more with what you know by accessing resources outside of your frontline environment to virtually every industry. “It’s going to change lives,” says Chrostowski. “What gets us excited is to focus on the future of work and what it means to be able to have people work more effectively, more safely, to literally feel more empowered, more engaged in everything they do. There are 2bn frontline workers that today are not connected who are going to be at a competitive disadvantage to your competitors who are. That’s what gets us up every morning.”

Creo: The power of design

RealWear uses Creo, PTC’s a flagship 3D-CAD application, which enables customers to build digital prototypes that are fully detailed in all respects in 3D and ensure that all the components of the design come together correctly, and also test the design for functional capabilities, work on designs, manufacturability processes, all associated to that core 3D design model. It has huge time savings, and it helps design engineers reduce a lot of risk in designs as they transfer them over to manufacturing by doing all of the testing and development and checking all in 3D before they make a single part. The powerful 3D design environment allows design engineers to explore multiple design concepts. It gives them tools for being able to edit existing designs really flexibly, maybe in ways they didn’t anticipate, and to handle the complexity of multiple different types of users with different goals who need to contribute to the design in their own way.

Advanced assembly

Advanced assembly, or AX, is typically associated with very large designs. It’s not necessarily only useful, though, for those types of scenarios. What it’s also helpful with is defining and organizing interfaces between parts of the design that need wildly different skillsets from a design point of view, and significantly different areas of expertise from a design point of view. And in a RealWear device, where you have a combination of highly ergonomic designs coupled with very sophisticated electronics, the places where different parts of the design come together and the types of contributors to the design have to work together in a single environment to make sure that they’re all accommodating one another’s needs, that is also a very, very powerful concept that AX can help customers with.

Flexible modeling

Flexible modeling assembly is a set of tools that allows design engineers to make changes to the design in a way that were not necessarily anticipated by the underlying parametric feature definitions. It also works for geometry-based designs that don’t have any underlying parametric features. With RealWear, because it’s going around a human head and has constraints that are unknown to the design engineers from the very beginning, it might be very difficult to develop the parametric definition of the components that make up the RealWear device in a way that could anticipate all the ways helmets might differ. Flexible modeling allows them to tweak, update and vary geometry without losing any information that you added to the model by making geometric changes. And so, RealWear can catalogue how they’ve had to tweak designs according to various helmet configurations as part of their product portfolio strategy.


Thanks to Brian and to Andrew for showing us around RealWears’ headquarters.

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This is an 18Sixty production for PTC. Executive producer is Jacqui Cook. Sound design and editing by Ollie Guillou. Recording by Joel Shupack. And music by Rowan Bishop.

Episode Guests

Andrew Chrostowski, Chairman and CEO, RealWear

More About RealWear

Brian Thompson, Divisional GM, CAD Segment, PTC

More About Creo