Sodexo Illustrates the Benefits and Hazards of Smart Glasses

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By Michael Larner | 3Q 2021 | IN-6265

Smart glasses are arriving in the field at an opportune time to help provide real-time feedback.

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Sodexo provides food, facilities management, and technical services to a number of clients in Australia’s Energy & Resources sector. Many of the sites where Sodexo operates are in regional locations, located far away from the company’s metro support centers. For example, Sodexo supports mining firms based in Australia’s Pilbara region, some 1,500km away from its office in Perth.

For one of Sodexo’s largest mining contracts in Western Australia, more than 300 tradespeople deliver these services on-site, but sometimes rely on the expertise of a colleague from Perth. The turnaround for support could be several days as if there aren’t daily flights from Perth, the trip would involve a 19 hour drive. In other parts of Australia, Sodexo can resolve issues by reassigning an individual from another site in a city.

To expedite and improve the support Sodexo provides its on-site employees, the company has invested in smart glasses from RealWear to enable city-based workers to see through the eyes of on-site field workers. The technology improves safety and compliance by allowing technical experts to connect with local technicians and provide remote risk management, audits, and inspections, while building on-site Health & Safety capability through technical support and training. There are parallels here with plant managers at factories needing to manage their assets and technicians requiring support to fix an issue on a piece of equipment.

Practical Considerations for Rolling Out Smart Glasses


In 2020, Sodexo partnered with French based firm AMA to pilot the company’s augmented reality (AR) technology solution XpertEye. The pilot initially included 11 pairs of the glasses from RealWear loaded with AMA XpertEye software. Today the number of smart glasses deployed has more than tripled to 37 pairs across Sodexo’s sites in the region. At the moment, 20 pairs are used exclusively for auditing the health and safety aspects of the services being delivered, with data fed to the Perth Command Centre. To resolve maintenance issues, users can connect to an expert in Perth and the software enables the transmission of audio instructions for known issues.

However, the glasses need reliable connectivity which isn’t always available in the Pilbara region, and so Sodexo is trialing its own satellite system to underpin the glasses and other devices in use. Also, given the scarcity of the glasses, it is the responsibility of the site managers to issue the glasses to staff and store them when not in use.

For those considering investing in smart glasses, they need to ensure that the local facility has sufficient bandwidth for receiving data and video communication as well as procedures for ensuring that glasses, like all the other vital equipment in the facility, don’t get lost.

Glasses Deliver Clear Benefits but Caution Required


Manufacturers and service firms continue to face the challenge of optimizing processes and proactively addressing issues with fewer staff on-site. In Sodexo’s case, the company is focusing on working with site leaders to adjust to collaborating remotely with colleagues in Perth and familiarize themselves with how the glasses convey information, i.e., the voice inside their heads. But the introduction of the glasses is the current iteration of the company’s human centered design for delivering services, which have recently focused on moving data collection tasks away from clipboards and paper to tablet devices and QR codes.

In financial terms, Sodexo’s pilot study found that an individual pair of smart glasses and the associated software achieved the equivalent productivity savings of at least one return flight and up to 13 hours of labor. Taking this into consideration, the total investment in the pilot (including hardware costs and operational expenses) was recovered after only three months and 10 days. The company estimates that smart glasses have the potential to achieve a 344 percent return on investment over 12 months and reduce travel-related costs by as much as 50 percent moving forward.

With travel restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this implementation is very timely. But beyond saving on travel costs, the data and images collected by the smart glasses have enabled Sodexo to predict and rectify problems before they arise. Sodexo thinks that eventually the glasses will be utilized to monitor fatigue levels of bus drivers at mining sites and support remote health diagnostics for staff.

While users report that the RealWear glasses are more comfortable than previously trialed devices, the unit cost prohibits roll out across the Pilbara region with the average cost of deployment being several hundred Australian dollars. Sodexo reports that the unit price needs to come down to a couple of hundred dollars for widespread use. As outlined in AN-5424, mining firms are investing in smart glasses for similar reasons to Sodexo and, given the hazardous nature of the work, will be looking to deploy them to staff performing inspections. If smart glasses can become standard kit for helping staff stay safe, then unit prices will come down.

But firms need to be conscious of unintended consequences. Users must be made aware that often the remote support helps to resolve the issue in isolation and doesn’t replace formal training programs that spend the time to cover the context and broader issues at play. The remote support can provide a false sense of security and that users can fix issues that really need the attention of subject matter experts.