Why Digital Transformation In Utilities Needs To Be Hands-Free

It was a dark and stormy night…

While many thrillers begin like this, the last thing any utility worker wants during a power outage is danger and mystery. As soon as the first reports of downed power lines come in, linemen fan out across the region to restore service as quickly as possible. In these situations collaboration is critical, but it can be a challenge with widely dispersed teams.

How much time does it take a team of linemen to restore power after a storm? And what can they do to fix it faster? If linemen had an easier way to collaborate and share knowledge, they could shave hours off of every audit, damage assessment, and work order.

There are a lot of mobile solutions designed to deliver the right data to frontline workers at exactly the right time. But this promise carries a veiled threat to their safety. If a worker uses a ruggedized smartphone or even a handheld rugged tablet, then they can’t use their hands to do their job.

If a worker uses a ruggedized smartphone or even a handheld rugged tablet, then they can’t use their hands to do their job.

As soon as a lineman looks down at their rugged tablet or smartphone, they stop looking at their work. Worse, now their hands are busy with a device when they should be restoring power.

There’s an easy way to fix this: with your voice. Voice-operated wearable computers give frontline workers all the advantages of mobile devices while freeing their hands do real work. Wearable rugged tablets can improve lineman safety and productivity without any tradeoffs.

Here’s how industrial wearables are improving safety for utility workers around the world.

Voice-Operated Wearable Rugged Tablets Can Reduce Workers’ Dependence on Paper

Linemen have a lot to keep track of, including rules and regulations, lockout/tagout procedures, and maps of each work site. And while some teams have adopted mobile devices, many workers are still using paper-based logs and manuals. If utility workers have to decide between holding onto their safety equipment or a binder with paper instructions, guess which one they’ll choose? The last thing linemen need while they’re trying to restore power is a huge binder occupying their hands and slowing them down.

The HMT-1® wearable rugged tablet can eliminate the need for paper logs altogether. Now linemen can call up any document they might need with a few simple voice commands. With HMT-1, workers can keep their hands focused on their work and maintain situational awareness. This is a big reason why Burns & McDonnell predicted at least 50 percent of utility workers will adopt this technology in the future.

Remember that dark and stormy night we mentioned earlier? HMT-1 can respond to voice commands with 98 percent accuracy even when ambient noise reaches 95 dBA. And a simple voice command from a lineman will turn the flashlight on, illuminating the work site instantly.

Help Everywhere You Need It

When utility workers head out to survey the damage after a storm, many of them will wind up in isolated, remote locations. And when they arrive, some of them might run into situations they’ve never faced before.

How can these workers get the right guidance to restore power faster?

With HMT-1, workers can initiate a live video call in seconds. Now subject matter experts at the home office can act like remote mentors for workers on-site. They can see what frontline workers see, and they can guide workers in real-time from anywhere in the world.

HMT-1 wearable rugged tablet allows linemen to get all the information they need with a few simple voice commands, hands-free
HMT-1 wearable rugged tablet allows linemen to get all the information they need with a few simple voice commands, hands-free

Voice-operated computers can also help with day-to-day challenges. When Verizon, Duke Energy, and the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) tested HMT-1 in a field trial, it was their goal to speed up the post-storm damage assessment process.

They developed an augmented reality application to deliver a hands-free experience on the HMT-1, one that would act as a step-by-step guide for engineers in the field.

Damage assessment time was reduced by 3 to 6 hours and data accuracy improved by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the hands-free interaction increased worker safety in stormy conditions.

The results demonstrated huge implications for worker safety and productivity. Damage assessment time was reduced by 3 to 6 hours and data accuracy improved by 50 percent. Meanwhile, the hands-free interaction increased worker safety in stormy conditions.

Even vegetation crews can benefit from HMT-1. Central Maine Power experienced this first-hand when they switched from pen and paper to HMT-1. When CMP crews identify danger trees along distribution / transmission lines, they can log the data in digital workflows that are time-stamped and location-tagged by GPS. Now, exporting the data now takes seconds instead of hours, which also reduces their Operations and Maintenance (O&M) costs.

RealWear HMT-1 is rugged enough for the worst conditions, yet flexible enough so linemen and other utility workers can wear it throughout their shifts. Lightweight, PPE-compatible, and with a battery that can last up to 10 hours between charges, HMT-1 can help minimize the risks that linemen encounter every day. 

Connected worker programs are central to digital transformation in utilities. Verizon, Duke Energy, EPRI, and Central Maine Power have already seen how wearable computers can improve productivity and safety for frontline workers. Learn more in our whitepaper, Accelerate Productivity and Generate ROI with Wearable Computers.

Download the Whitepaper

An earlier version of this article was published by Utility Products Magazine.