A warehouse workers uses the new Zebra HD4000 head-mounted display to retrieve a box.
By Your Edge Contributor | January 06, 2020

Meet the Head-Mounted Display Making Augmented Reality Accessible to All Mobile Workers

When Six15 Technologies and Zebra teamed up to design the HD4000, we had one goal: overcome the barriers to AR adoption in warehousing, retail and field service. We succeeded. Hear how (and why).

*This post was contributed by Rich Ryan, President and CEO of Six15 Technologies. He is a career entrepreneur and technology leader who brings a diverse suite of operations, financial and visionary expertise to each organization he leads. He is currently responsible for Six15 Technologies’ product innovation and is a respected advisor in the wearables industry. You can learn more at www.six-15.com


With Industry 4.0 placing an increasing amount of pressure on businesses to do more with less, many are looking to new technologies to improve quality, productivity and workforce efficiency. Augmented reality (AR) is among them. So are heads-up displays (HUD) and, specifically, head-mounted displays, as Zebra’s Todd Boone spoke about recently on the Your Edge blog.

Early deployments of AR head-mounted displays have demonstrated the potential for significant gains across operations for organizations in warehousing, manufacturing, field service and more. Yet, there have been numerous barriers to scale that have challenged widespread adoption. Despite this, overwhelming interest in AR head-mounted displays remains. That is why, four years ago, Six15 Technologies began working with Zebra to co-develop a smart glasses-like solution that would eliminate these barriers, as Todd Boone explains in this video:

What we quickly realized was that, if we were going to make a head-mounted AR system accessible and appealing to all workers, a traditional smart glasses design wasn’t going to work. They would only benefit from a long-wear, hands-free solution that was compatible with the other enterprise-grade wearables, mobile computers and scanners they use in the course of their day. And that wasn’t something that either Zebra or Six15 was going to figure out in a lab-based R&D environment or by solely applying Six15’s experience with HUD technology in military environments, which is where Six15’s solutions were first utilized.

In fact, there were many unique considerations and learnings that informed our development of the recently-released Zebra HD4000 head-mounted display as Todd and I spoke about in a recent sit down with Zebra’s Senior Director of Product Marketing, Mike Petersen.


As you will hear in the podcast and some of the shorter videos below, every design element and feature of the HD4000 was influenced by customer/end-user feedback during real-world testing.

Design Matters: How Workers (Like You) Helped Us See the Best Way Forward with AR

As soon as we sat down for our first design meeting with Zebra, we immediately zeroed in on a set of key pain points that were impacting the overall user experience:

1. Comfort: Most HUD devices on the market today are hard to wear all day, and many don’t accommodate user-specific requirements, such as prescription lenses. Plus, HUDs often include electronics and batteries that can generate an uncomfortable amount of heat on the user’s head. We had to address these things and more as I explain in the podcast.

2.  Suitability for enterprise applications: We had to make sure the system is truly usable in everyday industrial work environments. Delivering enough battery life to last the duration of the task at hand – whether for a couple of hours or for an entire 12-hour shift – is a must. The ability to withstand accidental drops from head level and resistance to sweat and rain are also necessary for front-line workers to trust that their head-mounted displays will always work. But durability wasn’t our only concern.

3. Ease of deployment: Since most of the smart glasses in the market today operate in a self-contained fashion, they require special provisioning and securing to function in an enterprise IT environment. However, just like other consumer-grade mobile devices, this process adds significant complexity and overhead to an organization’s mobility solution and broader technology system architecture, which increases the total cost of ownership and dramatically reduces the “total benefits of ownership” as Zebra likes to say.

That’s why we ultimately landed on the accessory model versus the traditional smart glasses design, as Todd and I explained to Mike during our discussion:

Why the Accessory Model Is Best Poised to Drive Widespread Adoption of AR Head-Mounted Displays

Based on Six15’s ST1 platform, the Zebra HD4000 is a rugged, monocular head-mounted display that seamlessly integrates with Zebra’s mobile computers. By tethering to a host device via USB, it leverages both the computing power and the battery power already in place, thus providing all-day power and increased productivity to those who benefit from hands-free, directed-action workflows.  

Taking this accessory model approach was the only way to overcome the barriers to scale presented by alternative HUD devices. Throughout development, we constantly asked ourselves, “What are the critical features that need to be on the head, and how can we better leverage the existing technology in the warehouse and the factory floor?”

By using the processing power, battery, connectivity and operating system of Zebra’s mobile computers, we were able to dramatically reduce size, weight and heat at the head; eliminate the need to charge another battery; and increase design flexibility to dramatically improve on ruggedization. Just as important, the accessory model design allows us to leverage the enterprise Wi-Fi capabilities and warehouse management system (WMS) integration already present with Zebra’s solutions. This approach makes adoption and implementation significantly less risky and more seamless for customers, based on what they have articulated they need (or don’t need), as we talk about here:

We are already seeing impressive results in the warehouse with this solution.  Initial pilot results have shown that companies are able to almost instantly onboard new employees and reduce training time up to 90 percent.  A single worker can be directed to pick multiple orders and put away incoming shipments and returned items, which resulted in 24 percent more orders per day while simultaneously reducing the pressures placed upon the warehouse worker. And this is just one example. Todd shares some shocking stats from our user testing in this video:

As you can imagine, each of these results is a game changer for businesses – and not just in warehouses. We expect similar results in productivity, efficiency and quality gains for manufacturing and field service operations that deploy the HD4000 now that the deployment burden has been minimized. I talk more about the opportunities beyond the warehouse here:

Curious If (and How) the Zebra HD4000 Could Benefit Your Workers?

I invite all of you to get hands-on with this AR solution at the Zebra booth #3301 at the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) Big Show in New York City. And, if you’re not heading to NRF, we can set up some time for you to experience this head-mounted display at a time that’s convenient for you. Reach out to the Zebra team to get that scheduled.


Editor’s Note

If you’re not able to listen to the full podcast conversation between Rich, Todd and Mike right now, these short videos might answer some of your burning questions:

How does the Zebra HD4000 really differ from other head-mounted display options available today?

What do workers see when they put on a Zebra HD4000? And how much does an AR head-mounted display such as this really improve workers’ efficiency and productivity?

How easy is it to train workers to use the Zebra HD4000?

How does the Zebra HD4000 work with Zebra’s new FulfillmentEdge solution?

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