Wouldn’t it be great to have an assistant who was always with you, whispering in your ear the information you needed, at just the moment you needed it, throughout your work day? Smart digital assistants are cropping up everywhere, and wearables, including a reboot of Google Glass as a virtual assistant, could make the ever-present, all-knowing electronic aide a reality.

Plataine, an Israeli software company that creates AI-enhanced systems that use sensors and powerful data processing to create smart factories, has created a virtual assistant that could have stepped out of a science fiction movie. Plataine melded its technology with Google Glass Enterprise and Dialogflow, a Google NLP (natural language processing) technology, to produce a wearable smart production assistant that can improve efficiency, reduce costly errors, and increase management agility.

Plataine’s smart digital assistant solves real-world problems familiar to many production-floor managers:

  • Most production floor workers, and even many managers, do not have computers or tablets handy; in some large, complex factories, work orders and workflow still rely on paper-based tracking.
  • Employees’ “hands are busy working,” Anat Karni, Plataine’s product lead, told attendees at a presentation on the smart digital assistant. Additionally, they might be wearing gloves. Using their hands to access and report information slows down production and creates a distraction.
  • Where computers are available, entering updates to workflow, reporting backups or breakdowns, or keeping abreast of new urgent needs requires stopping one’s work, going to the workstation or locating the tablet, and entering or accessing the information.
  • Delayed and inefficient reporting hampers managers’ ability to respond quickly to problems.

Inefficient documentation and tracking has an enormous cost: Karni said that one client told Plataine that 25 percent of production-line time is spent on documentation and reporting tasks.

Assistance when and where you need it

Plataine’s smart factory technology includes sensor-based systems for tracking and locating materials, managing inventory, optimizing production and quality control, and tracking work orders. Merging these tools with smart devices, like Google Glass or tablet-based tools, provides managers and workers in complex manufacturing operations with timely notification of work in progress or completed and of problems on the production floor, enabling an agile response to changes. But these tools still require some use of the hands. So, Karni said, Plataine integrated Dialogflow into its Google Glass-based virtual assistant to “close the loop.”

Dialogflow uses machine learning to facilitate conversation with the virtual assistant. This AI-based natural language processing ability allows workers and managers to make requests, ask questions, and get the information they need—instantly, in the workflow.

Modern employees—and consumers—are increasingly accustomed to searching for information using voice-activated digital assistants. Bringing this intuitive, hands-free option onto the production floor is a natural evolution of AI-powered technology.

In the use cases that Karni presented to Google Cloud Next ’18:

  • A production worker used the smart assistant to find out which work order was most urgent and request needed supplies.
  • The worker requisitioned the supplies using a voice request. The assistant told her exactly where to find the materials in the warehouse. The smart digital assistant works with Plataine’s inventory management to choose supplies, and it updates the inventory, allocating selected materials to the work order. This helps with inventory management.
  • The software recorded the work order as “in progress,” providing real-time updates to the worker’s manager and team.
  • When the worker tells the assistant that the work order is complete, the assistant updates and archives the completed work order, again updating the manager and team members.

In a second use case, the virtual assistant notified the worker of recently delivered materials that had been flagged as defective. It then located the materials so the worker could remove them from the supply room. In the case of materials that had already been processed, the virtual assistant, integrated with Plataine’s smart factory software, identified products made with the defective materials, located them, and “quarantined” them, ensuring that they wouldn’t be used or sold.

By offering hands-free assistance in the workflow, wearable performance support tools reduce disruptions. Smart virtual assistants allow workers to focus on the job at hand, confident that they have the latest information and all of the materials and tools they need. Information processing and updates happen in real time, allowing both workers and managers to improve their efficiency and reduce quality problems that might result from using defective or expired materials.