The Defense Workplace Within the Covid-19 Environment: Innovating Towards Safer and Smarter Operations
Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of work in the midst of Covid-19. And while the global pandemic will recede, it is also clear that one of its lasting legacies is a permanently changed workplace. And what are those changes? The ones we are already making to deal with two big Covid-19-related workplace challenges: preventing people from touching things and maintaining safe physical distances.
Organizations around the world have already incurred significant costs to establish and maintain touch-safe and socially distant operations to keep everyone safe and the military community is no exception. But just stopping at the costs of installing those safety measures leaves your organization with only those incurred costs. How can military organizations turn the costs of a Covid-19-safe workplace into opportunities to increase value and improve readiness?
Shared devices replaced by highly enabled personal devices
How do you keep the kiosk-style computer in the aircraft hangar or maintenance shop floor safe and sanitary for every user? The kind of machine everyone logs in and out of before and after use. Do you wear gloves and other PPE each time and then throw away? That can work but it’s a big sustainability issue and PPE should be reserved for critical uses.
Moving forward the use of shared devices will be minimized if not eliminated entirely as the use of personal devices increase, and that’s exactly where the opportunities lie. Personal devices – such as smartphones, tablets, and laptops – will be enhanced with new applications and interaction modes that align with each individual’s role and method of work. A helicopter repair technician with their hands full needs to interact with their tablet by speaking – and the tablet must distinguish the speaker’s voice over the surrounding noise of a busy aircraft hangar as well as understand the specialized vocabulary and context of aviation maintenance.
What’s more, the technician with their hands full will still need diagrams and information based on the specific parts, components, or area of aircraft – information only available on the tablet screen. That’s why the AI-enabled maintenance application on the tablet will deliver enriched, in-context information through augmented reality (AR) glasses worn by the technician.
Smarter spaces and even smarter remote support
Are human beings really needed to register someone coming into a building – even for a Covid-19-related health screening? All of it can be done remotely and securely, using facial recognition to match faces to registration details, voice-enabled chat bots to conduct contact tracing and ask follow up questions, and smart sensors that can take your temperature. With sensors throughout the building, facilities can monitor capacity and where people are in the building, granting or limiting access to specific workspaces as needed.
And keeping distance is equally important back in the maintenance hangar – so instead of a technician working side by side with a more senior individual – the technician can get remote support through a camera feed in their AR glasses. Technicians will be able to rely on Tier-1 support using chat bots and other intelligent robotic technology, thereby prioritizing human support for more complex support tasks.
5G as catalyst for work and workspace reinvention
For these technology-driven changes to be possible requires a tremendous amount of network bandwidth. The AR-enabled operator in a facility or in the field is always connected in real time, exchanging gigabytes of data simultaneously across multiple video, voice, and data feeds, and many operators have to be supported at the same time. That level of bandwidth and service was simply not available until 5G.
A private 5G network has the range, bandwidth, and security to make this kind of interaction seamless and meet the high-level of service necessary for military-grade performance and reliability. Another critical advantage is that the 5G network can be segmented, so that either voice, video, or data can be prioritized depending on the service needs for that particular segment.
New ways to interact with spaces and machines
New innovations that would otherwise have taken many more years to emerge are happening right now in response to the pandemic. For example, the challenge of the interior navigation of a building or ship – a challenge solved years ago for external navigation by GPS – can now be mastered with 5G.
A facility-wide 5G and proximity sensor network connected to an intelligent ERP solution can track the distribution of people for a variety of scenarios. These can include monitoring and reserving capacity for high-use interior areas of a ship such as mess halls and gyms or guiding crew members to those spaces at designated times using AR-highlighted routes that minimize human contact. A smart facility may even detect if someone alone in a room has suddenly fallen or had a medical emergency.
In the months and years to come, these technologies will be leveraged in new and imaginative ways to create safer, more-productive work environments. And just as we have witnessed in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, these new capabilities will balloon as the pace of innovation accelerates exponentially for both military and civilian applications.