March 20, 2020
Pictured above: A worker using the RealWear ruggedized headgear in which Teams will be embedded.
Microsoft’s push to bring Teams to firstline workers is expanding into industrial environments by way of a partnership with RealWear, an emerging provider of ruggedized headgear with handsfree computers that let technicians communicate and transmit images from job sites.
The partnership, among the many announcements by Microsoft yesterday to mark the three-year anniversary of its chat-based collaborations and communications tool, is a coup for RealWear, a venture-backed startup that has gained attention in the industrial automation world with its HMT headsets.
Founded in 2015, RealWear is known for its HMT headgear that consist of voice-controlled Android-based computers that have cameras and displays in the form of eyeglasses, attached to ruggedized headsets. The cameras capture what a technician at a jobsite sees, then streams the images wirelessly to remote associates who are providing guidance or gathering information. The headsets, which primarily rely on voice input to gather images and issue other commands, are equipped to enable live communications and have batteries that the company claims run up to 10-12 hours.
Industrial workers typically use RealWear’s HMT headgear in factories, manufacturing plants and field service scenarios in various industries including automotive, utilities, energy and telecommunications. The company has built a considerable customer base that include some of the world’s largest companies such as BMW, Pepsi and Shell.
RealWear’s Sanjay Jhawar
Most of its largest customers have purchased hundreds of headsets, which cost approximately $2,500 each, according to Sanjay Jhawar, RealWear’s co-founder, president and chief strategy officer. Among its largest installations is BMW, which has distributed about 400 HMTs to its mechanics.
The communications software embedded in the HMTs until now has come from niche providers, Jhawar told Channel Futures. Many of the customers have said they would expand the use of the headsets if they supported mainstream tools such as Teams, he added.
Customers started asking RealWear to provide a way for its headsets to work with Skype for Business two years ago. But Jhawar noted that because Microsoft had decided to curb development of Skype for Business and move that functionality to Teams, RealWear was unable to accommodate that request.
Now that Teams usage is expanding at a rapid pace, RealWear’s customers have pressed for the company to embed it into its headsets. Because numerous RealWear customers are Global 100 enterprises and many were pushing for the Teams integration, Jhawar said RealWear was able to get on Microsoft’s radar and convince the company to develop a specialized Teams client for the HMTs.
“This really was born of Microsoft’s large enterprise customers,” Jhawar said. “To get a company like us to persuade a large company like Microsoft to do something unique, we needed two orders of magnitude, bigger numbers that move the needle. We really had to aggregate a lot of customer requests to do this, and when it got to a large enough number that Microsoft was willing to invest in, this thing got started.”
Anshel Sag, an analyst at Moor Insights and Technology said the partnership benefits…
…both Microsoft and RealWear. “RealWear is a great partner for Microsoft to team up with because their headsets are already qualified and tested in the field for numerous industrial applications,” Sag said. “RealWear’s headsets are designed to allow for hands free communication with subject matter experts or customers without getting in the way of the work at hand. This also expands Microsoft Teams availability into more industries because of where RealWear already has customers and partnerships.”
RealWear’s headsets don’t compete with Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, which Jwawar said are intended for different usage. “HoloLens is all about mixed reality and 3D objects and we don’t do that,” he said. “What we’re doing is taking tablet-style applications that you can use whilst maintaining your situational awareness in the real world for safety reasons and giving you an unobstructed view of the real world. And that’s why customers pick it.”
Duncan Barnes, a Microsoft senior product marketing manager, noted in a company blog that integrating Teams into RealWear’s headsets will let field service technicians work hands-free and collaborate remotely with experts. “RealWear’s voice-operated Android platform integrated with Teams allows field workers to video call with remote experts and show what they see and hear in real-time,” Barnes noted. “This accelerates the time to resolve issues and reduces the risk of expensive downtime, which is especially helpful given current travel restrictions.”
In the case of a HVAC repair technician repairing an air conditioning system, the repairman wearing a RealWear headset can use Teams to communicate with a remote engineer. Using voice commands to navigate Teams, the technician can safely take pictures and share them, as demonstrated in a 1-minute video created by both companies.
Jwawar said the deal with Microsoft is a key inflexion point that he believes will result in customers deploying thousands of its headsets, rather than just hundreds. The company last summer received $80 million in Series B funding from a group of investors led by J.P. Morgan Chase, with more than $100 million raised so far. RealWear sells both direct but is also expanding its reach through various channel partnerships including NTT Ltd’s Data Dimension, Accenture, Wipro and CDW, among others.
“I think at the current time and where we’re at in this market now, we’re going to get to the next level of people really understanding that this is no longer a bleeding edge thing to do, that it’s a safe thing to” Jhawar said. “Microsoft endorsed it and that’s a good symbol of crossing the chasm.”
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