Machine Safety: Can machine operators be safe with Google Glass?

Special technology for machine safety can be applied in special ways to provide compliant machine safeguarding. Technologies such as Google Glass are starting to merge into human activity. How will safety behavior be impacted if employees are allowed to wear Google Glass near operating machinery?


Will wearable computers or operator interfaces like Google Glass be too risky to use around or while operating machinery? “Technology” and “safety” have shared a curvy road since at least the 1970s. Over the last 15 years we’ve seen how special technology for machine safety can be applied in special ways to provide compliant machine safeguarding. Only recently have special technologies like Google Glass begun to merge into human activity in general.

National Instruments demonstrated Google Glass at NIWeek, August 2013 in Austin, Texas. ( Courtesy: CFE Media, Mark T. HoskeHow will safety behavior be impacted if employees are allowed to wear Google Glass while performing their jobs around operating machinery?

Throughout my 40-plus years in manufacturing, I’ve observed both caution and abstention in regard to permitting “new technology” onto the shop floor and around machinery. Examples are easy to cite, like:

1. Internet access from machine control networks

2. Cellular phones with or without camera capability

3. Plant-to-plant communication

4. Commercial versus proprietary networks

5. Wireless device control.

The concerns listed concerning “new technology” were things like: maintaining access control, preventing spurious signals, unexpected motion, hacking vulnerability, flash distractions or unexpected noise on control networks. As we look back it’s easy to see that most of the new technology abstention was related in some way to providing levels of safety around machinery.

Google Glass, on the other hand, may present a different kind of concern on the shop floor. Opinions prevail that distractions increase risks of performing tasks safely. Plant personnel on the shop floor are normally around hazards, and it’s somewhat easy to require these employees to wear the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, ear protection, goggles, and so forth. It’s also somewhat easy to require these employees to not wear things like cutoffs, tennis shoes, sunglasses, ear phones, etc., when doing so increases the likelihood of injury.

With Google Glass how will industry react if an employee wears prescription glasses outfitted with Google Glass to work? An eye doctor has prescribed corrective glasses for this employee to perform daily functions; however, the supervisor cannot truly know if the employee is looking at photos, reading e-mail or surfing the Internet. In contrast, a supervisor can see an employee wearing ear plugs with a wire going to his iPhone, and corrective action can be applied.

It is my opinion that an employee can be distracted by looking at photos via Google Glass and as a result can increase the likelihood of injury. It might seem appropriate under these conditions for an employer to require an employee to have a pair of conventional corrective glasses, without Google Glass, to wear at work. Just like steel-toed shoes, right?

If information access to the eyewear computer were limited to workplace-appropriate activities, would that be any different? Leave your comments below.

Do you have some specific topic or interest that we could cover in future blog posts? Add your comments or thoughts to the discussion by submitting your ideas, experiences, and challenges in the comments section below.

Related articles:

Google Glass meets control systems by Jim O’Reilly in Control Engineering

Training simulators continue to adopt gaming technologies - see video

Virtual reality applied for programming CNC machine tools

Headset computer, RFID system, rugged tablet computer

Contact: for “Solutions for Machine Safety”.

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