Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The “Adjacent Possible” and Google Glass in Supply Chain Management

Carbon Fiber used for bicycle frames instead of aeronautical parts. Super Glue used for work projects instead of battlefield wounds. Electricity used for heating instead of light. These are just a few of what Steven Johnson pinpoints in his newest book as the “adjacent possible”. They are adaptations of inventions to suit the needs of other industries or ideas. The field of Supply Chain Management has benefited greatly from the “adjacent possible”, and one of the new game changers will certainly be Google Glass. Though the product has not been released yet, the possibilities for the product are quite striking. Companies are already moving into the market space begin working with these products.

 Source: http://www.gxsblogs.com/morleym/2013/05/ok-glass-how-can-you-help-improve-supply-chain-visibility.html

One Austrian company, Knapp, has already taken the concept of augmented reality glasses and put it on the market for Supply Chain Management. These glasses are called KiSoft Vision. They are essentially the bulky cousin of Google Glass, and as of right now have very limited functionality. Here’s a demo video of their capabilities:

Augmented Abilities in the Supply Chain
As KiSoft Vision demonstrates, wearable computing will have a direct impact on supply chains. Human beings could have their abilities augmented in the future to an incredible degree, and companies may have to choose between systems like the Kiva computerized systems and human-controlled systems. I envision that the human controlled systems could scale up the equivalent of a “Mech Warrior”, putting heads up displays into their mechanized body suits and being capable of doing incredibly difficult tasks. I believe that mechanized labor and robotic labor could be put into contention in the future, and it could be the way that companies distinguish themselves. But I get ahead of myself. In the very near future, I believe companies will be choosing between augmented reality glasses and robotic labor in warehouse and supply chain management. These decisions will be faced easily within the next 5 years.
Source: http://www.instash.com/diesel-powered-mechwarrior

Kiva vs. Glasses: Who Can Do It Better
Which way will companies go? I think that in the next few years, Augmented Reality glasses will be implemented to a greater extent than robotic systems firstly because of the malleability of humans. Changing the actions of one person in the supply chain is much easier than re-writing all of the code in a program to do the same thing. Change can flow quickly through a system. Robotic systems may take over the truly routinized, mundane tasks, but I believe the bulk of the work that will  be done with augmented reality glasses. It potentially can speed up all parts of the process help individuals learn and manage any part of the process that they desire. The computer can help where mechanical processing is needed, an instantly update a heads-up display, and then the user can act on the information to make those decisions whose goals are a bit fuzzy.

I also believe that augmented reality glasses with prevail because of their ability to refine human processes through data capture. Think of the possibilities if Toyota could break down every part of a process from the perspective of the employee.  Distances that arms travel could be calculated. Times of processes would be built in to the recording. Computers might struggle in this optimization process, but researchers who have detailed knowledge of the system as well as operators who do the hands-on process may stand a chance. 

Augmented Reality May Change Information Flow
Google Glass and other products like it may bring a more open flow of information to supply chains in the future. Augmented reality glasses are at their most useful when you have all of the data at your fingertips. To make the decision on the spot, you need to be able to access all the pertinent information. Very little is hidden may be hidden from the user in the future because of the nature of these gadgets. This might mean that “cloud” computing and data storage more quickly becomes the ideal. If information is in the cloud, than any device should potentially be able to access it anywhere in the chain.

Currently, Google Glass is only available as a beta version for specific users as well as for Google representatives. It has not been customized for Supply Chain Management as of yet, but it’s release later this year should make some headlines.

After my research and pontification, I’m still left wondering:
What benefits do robotic systems bring that I am overlooking?
How will mechanical physical augmentation change supply chains?
How will quantum computing affect the technologies, and in turn, affect supply chain management?

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