I’m standing in the lab at Daqri headquarters in Los Angeles, looking at a wall of pipes.
From the outside, they look grey and normal, but in front of my face, the world is different.
On the screen inside the smart helmet of the future I see an alert that the pressure is too high on a pipe. I know it’s a fake demonstration and that the pipes on the wall won’t burst open if I make the wrong move — but that’s where the Daqri helmet steps in to save me from the stress of trying to figure out exactly what to do next.
Instructions float in front of me, levitating somewhere between me and the wall of pipes I’m supposed to fix. Turn this pipe off. Now rotate this to the left. I follow the instructions like a GPS in front of my face, making all the right turns until it’s fixed.
At the next station, I put on the helmet and suddenly the world is vibrant and colourful. Looking at my hosts, they are yellow and red blobs. I suddenly feel like a spy straight from James Bond, counting the warm bodies in a room.
None of this would be possible if I was wearing a traditional hard hat. Trust me, I’ve borrowed my brother’s who works in construction enough. Yet, the Daqri helmet transforms what is normally just a safety tool into a super-powered helmet that has the potential to change industries from oil and gas to aeronautics.
Tucked away in downtown Los Angeles, on a floor that used to be the set of “Mad Men,” Daqri has quietly been building an augmented reality helmet.
Compared to virtual reality, which takes over your entire field of vision once you strap on goggles, augmented reality tricks your eyes into seeing virtual objects overlaid onto the real world in front of you. Microsoft has built the HoloLens. Magic Leap, a startup that promises Harry Potter-like experiences, has raised $1.3 billion for its ambitions.
Yet, Daqri doesn’t want to sell to people looking for entertainment or games. They don’t have a grand vision for everyone sitting on their couches wearing hard hats in the future — at least not yet. Instead, the company is focused on making industries like construction both safer and more efficient.
“On the consumer side, you don’t have demand generation,” says Matt Kammerait, VP of Innovation for Daqri. “Industry is always looking for ways to be more efficient.”
Each Daqri helmet is packed with sensors and cameras, plus a battery life designed to be long enough to wear it out in the field. Two USB ports let companies add things like flashlights or gas detectors to the helmet itself, freeing up worker’s hands from needing to carry anything on the job.
Where Google Glass failed in capturing the enterprise market, Daqri think it has a good shot, considering it turned one piece of equipment everyone wears into a machine that can power their work.
Imagine looking at a field of pipes and being able to identify them and what’s flowing through them. Instead of keeping employees in the control room to monitor data, a worker could be able to tell if a measurement is out of line just by having the camera on the helmet read it. If needed, their boss could also tap into the cameras on the helmet to see the same view and troubleshoot together.
For experienced workers on the job, they may not need the step-by-step instructions. If the camera notices them whipping through each step without really paying attention to Daqri’s instructions, it can turn its guidance off. But for those situations where you might not notice a problem or not know the best course of action, Daqri picks up the slack.
“It erases the line between what you know and what you don’t know,” Kammerait says.
In industries like airlines where a missed step could be a matter of life and death, Kammerait argues that having a smart helmet like Daqri is a good return on investment when it catches something. In the industries that Daqri sells to, like oil and gas, the cost of error is really high, Kammerait says.
So far, companies like Hyperloop, Siemens, and Autodesk have ordered the Daqri helmets to put them out in the field, and those are only the ones that Kammerait can publicly name. The company has several pilots going across many industries, and it’s working now to catch up.
“We’re supply constrained, not demand-constrained,” Kammerait adds with a smile.