As some of you may know, I have always been very excited about all things Augmented Reality (AR). In fact, I presented on Augmented Reality deliverables back at the 2011 SPAR International Conference (see the details here). However, I haven’t spent much time working on augmented reality solutions over the past two years. Some of the reason was the realization that I was too far out in front technologically for it to be a prudent business move, but mostly it was because mobile devices have been leading the way.
Initially, I found this encouraging as development cycles seem faster in the mobile world and the costs tend to be low as R&D can be spread across a very large user base. But, finally, the fact that they wanted everything to move across broadband networks drove me from the space. The datasets that these applications could accept were small so that they could be loaded quickly with a 3G or 4G connection, but they were too small to be of use in an engineering environment. Another issue that became apparent was that many sites would not allow you to use your cellphone or tablet inside their plant – no matter how advantageous it might be to their own bottom line.
Last week I became aware of a new device that made me think that I need to get back to work on AR deliverables. I have several clients that I work for as a consultant in order to vet new technology and aid in implementing that tech into their existing workflow(s). One of the advantages to this system is that anytime they see something “cool” they send me a link with a “Check it out!”. The latest of these has me more excited about AR than I have been in years. It’s called the Daqri Smart Helmet.
I’m familiar with Daqri, as they have developed several AR apps of the standard variety over the past 3-4 years. Their flagship 4D Studio software suite, for instance, allows users to build custom branded applications using photo recognition and AR markers. But the Smart Helmet is on a different plane.
Essentially, it’s a hard hat. However, it contains six cameras (set up for 360° FOV and forward facing 3D), an industrial grade IMU, and a retractable screen for a heads up display that moves out of the user’s way when it’s not being used. The entire setup is powered by two Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. The firmware boasts a system called Intellitrack™, which Daqri claims can be used for navigation and 3D object recognition. As in: No AR markers or codes are needed to identify an asset in the field!
What’s more, their 4D Studio has been reworked for industrial applications, and the helmet is pulling it all together and running it on Android in hopes of maximum interoperability with other applications.
While all of this seems like something from a SciFi movie set in the not-too-distant future, Daqri says that the Smart Helmet will go on sale mid-October of this year. No price has been released yet, but I’m on the list and will update in the comments section as soon as I know what the retail price is to be.
Why Google Glass has garnered so much press while the Smart Helmet has gone virtually unnoticed is a mystery to me. The question asked about Google Glass is inevitably, “What do you do with it?” or “What is it for?” Daqri seems to have sidestepped this by designing toward a particular market. I think any of us that have been on the phone while looking at schematics and making notes – all while on site – will immediately recognize the value in the tools that the Smart Helmet brings to the table. Daqri is certainly not the household name that Google is, but the Smart Helmet seems eminently more useful. I’ve used Google Glass before and while it was cool I certainly viewed it as a diversion. When I see the Smart Helmet I see a way to work smarter and make money. Those are the emails I love to get…