IoT is coming to a warehouse near you

Smartphone technology is driving the evolution of industrial handhelds.

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It’s beyond debate that the smartphone is profoundly transforming many industries and creating new opportunities such as the Internet of Things (IoT). The impact of mobile technologies goes beyond consumer segments such as wearables, virtual reality or connected cameras. A new breed of industrial devices is now built on smartphone innovations. Whether we’re discussing health care or smart energy, advancements in many mobile technologies are leading to the design of a new class of enterprise IoT applications – and fundamentally transforming industrial handheld computing.

Nearly as old as the mobile phone, industrial handhelds have been common tools of large commercial enterprises for logistics and warehousing workflows for some 20 years. Made possible by advances in computing power, industrial handhelds have advanced in capabilities along a trajectory that has tracked advances in mobile computing generally. But it is the revolution of the smartphone – the handheld computer that untethered the internet – that is enabling development of new industrial handhelds that will make those used today seem like the calculator you used in high school. The leading suppliers of industrial handhelds are keenly aware of this and are actively leveraging smartphone features into their products.

One simple and obvious example: Many industrial handhelds run Windows CE or some version of Linux implemented in a proprietary way by the individual manufacturer. But there lies great opportunity and momentum behind Android for IoT handheld devices.  Given Android is the most deployed OS around the world and that device makers prefer the ascendant OS that is adding users and developers every day – this trend is being felt in the industrial IoT space as it is across all of IoT.

But this is just one of the most obvious changes coming out of the smartphone that is impacting development of next-generation industrial handhelds. Advances in touchscreen technology, battery life, machine learning, outdoor and indoor location, radio technologies, and security are all expected to make these ubiquitous workhorses of companies’ logistics and warehousing solutions powerful members of IoT, driving operational efficiency that will translate to the bottom line.

While handhelds have been a key, indeed essential, part of asset tracking and logistics systems for years, tomorrow’s handheld for logistics and warehousing could be the very platform around which these systems are architected. From receiving to placement in the warehouse, to overall warehouse management and transportation logistics, tomorrow’s industrial handhelds will adopt a wide array of technical advances coming out of the smartphone industry that will make these devices far more powerful and useful. Here are just a few examples:

  • Touch that enables glove usage, provides improved accuracy, and works in the rain
  • Much longer battery life and improved viewing experiences, particularly in sunlight, via assertive display
  • Fully integrated and extremely accurate indoor and outdoor location, using Bluetooth Low Energy, beaconing or visible light communications
  • Machine learning for improving industrial equipment preventative maintenance
  • Voice over Wi-Fi or LTE for low-latency voice communication in warehouses
  • Powerful, hardware-based security using biometrics such as iris authentication
  • Fully integrated short-range radio technologies, including Bluetooth Low Energy and Bluetooth Mesh, Wi-Fi, and 802.15.4 for collecting sensor tag data
  • 4G LTE, and the coming transition to 5G, for fast, secure, and extremely reliable cloud connectivity anytime, anywhere

Using these advancements, tomorrow’s industrial handheld computer in the logistics and warehouse space will also act as an edge gateway, aggregating and processing biometric, environmental and asset monitoring sensor information, transforming the old handheld companion into a modern edge-compute device that plays a central role in the entire warehouse operation.

If you want to see what a fully realized industrial IoT implementation looks like – one that brings to the enterprise many of the promises that IoT holds – watch the logistics and warehousing space. Many of the technologies that will enable the next generation of industrial handhelds exist today – and advances continue apace. While people everywhere are amazed by consumer IoT gadgets such as smart speakers, virtual reality headsets, smartwatches, and connected cameras, a new generation of industrial handhelds and industrial IoT devices are now beginning to operate behind the scenes to deliver unprecedented agility, time efficiency, cost savings, and value across the enterprise.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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