Data glasses for people with hearing impairments

Researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have developed a visual communication system for hearing-impaired employees working in the field of logistics. Data glasses display information relevant to the work process in the employee’s field of view.

Augmented Reality, which unites the real and virtual worlds, has long been a research focus area at the TUM Institute for Materials Handling, Material Flow and Logistics, says Professor Willibald Günthner. Here, instead of concentrating on new apps, the researchers work on the application of the technology in logistics, specifically in picking.

How the technology makes warehouse work more accessible

During picking, orders are processed by employees who retrieve particular goods from the storage facility and place it in another location. Günthner explains: “The employee has to know where to go and what products to take.”

Usually this information is written on a piece of paper or shown on a display. The researchers had the idea of replacing the paper and display solutions with data glasses. The advantage is that an employee’s hands remain free, resulting in more freedom of movement. An employee is also led to the right destination visually.

Günthner and his team have registered the technology under the trademark “Pick-by-Vision”. The three-year research project, “Work-by-Inclusion”, took the development of the technology one step further. The researchers have realised a complete system for the inclusion of hearing-impaired individuals at logistics operation.

Employee needs were taken into account

“We wanted to achieve inclusion with the system. It was intended for those both with and without hearing impairments,” Günthner notes. The scientists conducted a large number of surveys in order to incorporate employee needs and suggestions in development.

It turned out that information is more easily understood when it is enhanced with symbols rather than with a plenty of text.

It was also necessary to adjust the frames of the data glasses to fit each individual to minimise interference or discomfort.

“We also implemented several additional functions. For example, it’s possible to exchange pre-formulated text messages with others. This creates a non-vocal communication platform,” explains Matthias vom Stein, research assistant at the Institute.

The system includes the data glasses, on which the picking app is installed, a hand scanner for reading the barcodes of the goods, and warehouse management software. Vom Stein says: “We’ve defined an open interface to the picking app based on Android.”

This means the system can also be used by other companies or institutions. A further advantage is that the software can be used with future data glasses, provided that the glasses use an Android operating system. The office product vendor Schmaus has been using the complete system since the end of 2017.

“The hearing-impaired employees are completely thrilled, because now they’re simply another part of the entire team. We really enjoyed the project, especially because the people there were so enthusiastic,” Vom Stein concludes.

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