Google Glass is one example of wearable tech in the oil & gas industry…what about smart watches?

My brother and I were driving home together this evening, and given that he works in tech and I have been even more interested in tech than usual since I started my project with Google Glass, naturally the conversation turned to….tech.

Specifically, the conversation turned to smart watches, since Samsung has just announced their second round of them.

Smart watches are interesting:  on one hand, the potential for fully realized offerings intrigues people raised on Dick Tracy, but on the other hand if you asked people “what can you really see yourself doing with this”, I don’t think you’d immediately get a lot of great use cases.

Controlling your music from your wrist?  Sure…

Previewing your emails and texts?  Maybe…

Are those really compelling enough to get people to drop several hundred dollars on yet another gadget?

Unlike Glass, the use cases really don’t jump out at you, making smart watches seem like a highly niche product, a “nice to have” for people that have to have every gadget that hits the market.

But as my brother and I kept talking, I kept thinking more about smart watches as they relate to oil & gas.  If you think about it, the constraints on a smart watch are similar to those on Glass, in that you have very limited space on which to present data (so you have to be very creative/efficient in how you layout the information) and the user experience must be limited to very short bursts (so you have to look at a smart watch as a complement to an existing device, rather than a standalone product).

The advantage that smart watches have over Google Glass is that there is generally acceptance for high tech devices strapped to people’s wrists.  Sure, a G-Shock may not be GQ- worthy, but you nevertheless see them everywhere, the oilfield included (in fact, I bought one specifically for the purpose of going out on field jobs).

All of that is to say that if you consider a smart watch as an alternative to Google Glass, which presents the same type of data under the same type of constraints, you could see a much smoother introduction for wearable tech.  If you made a G-Shock type wearable watch to present the same type of data as you would on Glass, I feel you may get less initial skepticism than if you tried to bring Glass onto a rig.

I’m talking about an either/or scenario here, but what about one where different kinds of wearable tech can coexist on an oil & gas professional in the field?

Beyond presenting data to people in a hands-free, safer way than what is available currently (so that’s very ACTIVE, with data appearing when the user asks for it), I’ve always thought that tech would be a great way to PASSIVELY help personnel out.  Google Glass does have some sensors on it (like an accelerometer, a touch sensor), but what if you could have a piece of tech on your wrist whose function wasn’t to present data, but COLLECT it:  think temperature, ambient pressure, perhaps the presence/concentration of H2S.  That data can then be stored for future examination, or if you’re wearing Glass, the data from the watch could be displayed there on request.

This would allow you flexibility:  if you don’t want a big bulky piece of headgear weighed down by sensors, decouple the sensors from the display.  What if a frac supervisor doesn’t need their entire crew to have access to data on Glass, but they do want to know the location of the crew and the conditions around them?  Sounds like a great application of a smart watch (or wrist device more generally) to me.

Ultimately, I think it’s this active/passive difference that will determine the use cases for each piece of wearable tech, and the really interesting applications will come when the two can complement each other.  Even more interesting will be when these two are combined with a central “hub” device (like a tablet or smartphone), where the hub is used to create and manage larger data sets (full tool diagrams, for instance) but then just the essentials are sent to the smart device for easy, on-the-fly consumption (the names of the tools and their pressure settings).

Perhaps that sounds clunky and cumbersome now, but after a few iterations I’m sure this tech trinity will prove very useful.  Personally, I only have the time and resources to pursue tablets and Glass for now (and alas, the Samsung watches have moved away from Android as an OS) but I look forward to the day when I can hopefully see my ideas realized alongside complimentary products and applications developed for use around the wrist as opposed to around the forehead!