By Kathrin Havrilla
Alumni’s startup streamlines supply chain with augmented reality
For most people, the process that occurs between clicking the “Buy Now” button and an eagerly anticipated package arriving at their doorstep is comprised of little more than patient waiting. But order processing involves many steps, from picking to sorting to consolidation, taking place in warehouses all over the world and akin to a well-coordinated logistical symphony of sorts.
Charu Thomas (ISyE 2018) knows these dozens of unseen steps in great detail — and she’s working to streamline the process for companies all over the world.
An industrial and systems engineering major with a concentration in operations research, Thomas is the founder of Oculogx, an augmented reality (AR) platform that uses wearable technology to modernize the supply chain. From a hardware perspective, the Oculogx wearable is an augmented reality headset with heads-up display — meaning it overlays data in the regular field of vision.
The Oculogx platform focuses on order picking — the process by which employees collect individual articles from a warehouse of goods to fill each customer’s order and ready it for shipment — which is one of the most crucial elements in the supply chain to affect productivity. With Oculogx, data is overlaid in the warehouse worker’s field of vision as they work, streamlining the order picking process. Order picking accounts for up to 60 percent of the operational costs of warehouses, which amounts to millions of dollars every year.
“Our solutions are up to 83 percent faster than traditional order picking methods,” says Thomas. “By using Oculogx’s wearable computing technology — basically replacing the warehouse employee’s list of orders on a piece of paper with a pair of AR glasses programmed with the same information — companies can save $500,000 a year in just one facility.”
"From the opportunity for research, to its location in the budding entrepreneurship ecosystem that is Atlanta, Tech is helping alumni like me do some incredible engineering.”
Thomas’ interest in the supply chain began during her first internship at McDonald’s, working in a warehouse environment and seeing the order picking and bin packing processes every day.
“You realize how hard these people’s jobs are,” says Thomas. “It’s so easy for us to forget everything that happens behind the scenes to get the right orders shipped to the right homes and businesses.”
After her internship, Thomas attended a Georgia Tech hackathon focused on mixed reality — in which the real world is merged with a virtual one through the use of technology such as AR. She became fascinated by the capabilities of introducing digital objects into the real world and decided to approach Thad Starner, wearable technology pioneer, Georgia Tech professor and the inventor of Google Glass, for some advice.
“I began doing research in my freshman year with Professor Starner on order picking and the brain-computer interface,” says Thomas. “Our work eventually led to an article that was named Best Paper at the ACM International Symposium on Wearable Computers/Ubicomp 2018.”
Oculogx’s wearable tech is a natural match for e-commerce sites like Walmart or Jet.com but also advantageous for any industries where order picking is prominent, such as automotives or pharmaceuticals.
“From the opportunity for research with one of the industry’s foremost experts in the field, to its location in the budding entrepreneurship ecosystem that is Atlanta, Tech is helping alumni like me do some incredible engineering,” says Thomas.
A recent customer, Newell Brands, will benefit from Oculogx through an auditing platform. It also works with a heads-up display and is used to keep track of the inventory being shipped out. Workers put on the headset to begin the audit process.
“It’s a different process altogether than order picking, but it’s also extremely cost efficient, and we’ve predicted some significant savings,” said Thomas.
Having just graduated in December 2018, Thomas will now be focused on heading up Oculogx full time. She plans to take a wider approach to wearable computing in general, adapting the technology to appeal to other industries, especially in enterprise environments like Newell Brands.