In Los Angeles, a startup called Daqri has designed a different kind of hard hat: an Android-powered one that’s capable of augmented reality. As such, it really looks more like a bike helmet than a hard hat, equipped with sensors, cameras and a transparent visor that functions as a head-up display. Unlike Google Glass that was designed with all kinds of consumers in mind, though, this high-tech hat was meant for industrial environments, to be used by engineers or blue-collar workers. It can show instructions and other digital elements superimposed against real-world equipment and objects without having to be manually operated. The hat can also give out early warning signals in case it catches anything that could be dangerous, or perform thorough quality checks on expensive machinery like satellites.
Many companies keep prices low to attract the mass market. Others, like Daqri, opt to court a select audience willing to pay for special features. The Los Angeles-based startup is betting that industrial employers will spend substantial money on an unusual high-tech helmet designed to help blue-collar workers do their jobs. Daqri’s Smart Helmet looks like a space-age hard hat. It has a transparent visor and special lenses that serve as a heads-up display, along with an array of cameras and sensors that help users navigate and gather information about their environment. The company has been selling software that helps companies use augmented reality, the technique of superimposing information on real-world objects viewed on a display. In a typical application, a user points a smartphone’s camera at an image that has been set to act as a trigger, such as a newspaper advertisement or objects on a table. The phone’s screen then shows the object with digital information overlaid on top. After developing initial applications for markets such as media and consumer products, Daqri found sales shifting in the past couple of years to industrial customers, says Brian Mullins, the company’s founder and CEO.