originally intended to make high-tech swimmers’ goggles,
but the small form factor and waterproofing of electronics
proved to be engineering impediments. Larger, rugged-yet-er-gonomic skiers’ goggles, though, would be easy to embed
with sensors and electronics. And these mountains would
be the perfect place to product test.
“What we realized is we were able to completely hide the
electronics and the display in the snow goggles,” recalls
Mario Palumbo, the former VP of Engineering for Recon.
“The key was coming up with use cases that people who
ski or snowboard would care about.”
The inertial sensors, including the gyroscope, magne-
tometer, and altimeter that Recon embedded, allowed the
skiers to gauge vital data that instantly appeared right on
the display, such as how long they spent soaring in the chilly
alpine air and other totally extreme metrics, like 3D speed,
GPS tracking, vertical distance traveled, temperature, and
time. This data could then be shared on social networks
assumingly to show up that jerky ski instructor who is after
your girl. Officially, the company says their products are
made to help athletes push their performance to new levels.
An unextreme way to put this is that the device gathered
several sets of relevant data to increase user efficiency. How
many times has that been written in these pages?
Their initial offering, the $399-499 Transcend, became
the first heads-up display for athletes.
“Recon was actually one of the pioneers in heads-up dis-
plays,” says Chris Croteau, general manager of the wearable
devices unit at Intel. “They were country before country was
cool—long before Google came out with Glass and other
people who were in the market.”
By 2013, Recon had sold 50,000 wearables compared
to a few thousand from Google. This was enough to draw
Intel’s attention, which subsequently invested in the startup.
By 2015, the great Glass elevator hit rock bottom and was
Meanwhile, Recon grew stronger and evolved with the
sensor and smartphone technology, adding a better CPU,
sensors, more connectivity, and a POV camera and audio.
One offshoot became the Recon Jet, which looked more
like Oakley wraparound sunglasses. You could swap out
the lenses for a multitude of sports and environments. The
smart glasses’ appeal expanded to runners, cyclists, and
even skydivers, because when you jump out of a plane, you
want to record it for posterity.
The factory floor may not get the adrenaline pumping
like a freefall from 5,000 feet, but these smart glasses had
nearly everything you’d want if you had to wear a pair for
your shift: an array of sensors, connectivity, durability, and
comfort. Recon’s design already gathered several sets of
relevant data to increase user efficiency. What Industrial
Internet of Things tool doesn’t try to do that?
The potential to radically transform how humans interface
with machines and data was always there. It’s like how you
always knew you were management material, but needed a
decade of rebellious debauchery to figure that out.
All this thrill seeker needed was a little push.
Enter Intel, which acquired Recon Instruments in 2015.
Intel wanted to see how these ruggedized glasses would
hold up in an industrial work setting, so they supplied Recon’s
smart glasses to their manufacturing and logistics workers
as part of a pilot program, Croteau says.
Typical warehouse picking operations, which accounts for
about 55% of labor resources, according to the European
Journal of Operational Research, can be quite ungainly and
time-consuming with conventional scanning tools.
“Similar functions can be done on a tablet or on a PC,
but then I’ve got to have a crash cart rolling around with
me, or I’ve got to have a tablet somehow in a pouch ,or a
bigger phone, or a tablet kind of thing tethered to my belt,”
Croteau explains. “And I’m constantly looking off of my work
and down to a screen.”
So instead of an RF gun, they strap on the glasses and
use a ring scanner for hands-free picking. Other hands-free
options, such as picking by light, which spotlights boxes
on the racks, require expensive infrastructure and aren’t
100% error proof.
“We’re giving them that screen that gives them the information they need without distracting them from the work that
they’re focused on -- and without occupying their hands. So
there’s an efficiency angle and a safety angle,” Croteau says.
One pilot project, which also used a Zebra RS507 ring
scanner and Ubimax xPick application, at Intel’s Glendale,
Ariz. distribution center, initially saw an immediate 15%
drop in picking time. After a month of practice, that grew
to a 30% decrease.
Pickers account for around half of the labor in a ware-
house, and Intel says the job is the “single most costly and
labor-intensive activity in the whole supply chain.”
So it didn’t take long for word to get out that Intel was
experimenting with a technology that could free up logistics
workers and the 1. 3 billion mobile workers around the world.
“We were getting at least five calls a week from big cor-
porate customers about Recon,” Croteau says. “At the time
it wasn’t really designed for industrial use. We didn’t have
solutions built on it but the pent-up demand was so over-
whelming that we put a plan in place to create a derivative
product that we call the Jet Pro.”
The Jet Pro ($599) works for indoor and outdoor environ-
ments, with a sunlight-readable display, waterproof compo-
nents, and a swappable battery that can last up to 5 hours.
A patented glance detection function saves more power by
switching off when you aren’t looking at the LCD. A 720P
camera records video, which can be streamed via Bluetooth
or WiFi from the field to a remote expert.
“So now instead of sending your most experienced worker
all the way out to the hardest problem, you can keep them in
the office and send your newer workers out,” Croteau says.
Recon Instruments’ Jet (left) and Snow2
(top)were early indicators that wearables
could be comfortable, rugged, functional,
and still look cool.
Recon Jet Pro
• Smartphone-class computing
• Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS
• Distributes weight of components
• Fully adjustable nosepiece and
• Swappable Lens: Clear or Gray
• Fits nearly all head shapes and
• POV camera enables see-what-I-
see video calls
• Battery: Approx. 2-5 hour runtime
• Validated for use with ERP, PLM,
MES, and WMS systems