When Daqri launches its updated Smart Helmet next month, the company is banking on its augmented reality headset finding a real audience after five years in development.
Chock-full of technology that provides it a wider field of view and more dynamic display while using lighter carbon-fiber components, the downtown company has focused on marketing to industrial users, who can use the product’s ability to keep a variety of workers better informed by overlaying text and graphics onto its heads-up display.
“It empowers workers with augmented reality to make better decisions in the workplace,” said Brian Mullins, Daqri’s chief executive. “Using the Smart Helmet you can look at a piece of equipment and you will see step-by-step instructions overlaid in real the world.”
The largest user base for Daqri’s device, a hard hat with retractable lenses, is among field engineers, he said, noting that engineers might be responsible for hundreds of work activities but only perform a handful of them on a regular basis.
The firm’s augmented reality technology is being tested by companies such as General Electric, Siemens AG, and downtown’s Hyperloop One as a means to speed up the work of technicians in industrial settings.
But at $10,000 each, and with a complex setup process, the average industrial company might have trouble justifying the device’s benefits, said Todd Richmond, director of the Mixed Reality Lab at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies.
“For certain niche applications, I think Daqri has a (return on investment) argument right now,” he said. “More broadly, no, but that will be coming.”
Mullins argued that there are a number of applications the device can do without much setup and that it continues to grow more capable. For instance, it contains an thermal camera within the helmet that can help workers see potential maintenance problems before they become expensive or hazardous.
“A bearing, seal, or rotating part, when the friction builds up before it breaks, it tends to accumulate heat,” he added. “With the naked eye it’s not really visible, but with the thermal camera you can actually see where the temperature has increased.”
Mullins and several of his co-founders reportedly met at USMetronics, a Boston company that invented an automated sentry gun and a robotic stone-cutting machine, before launching Daqri in 2010. Since, the firm has raised more than $130 million from investors, including $15 million from Newport Beach private equity firm Tarsadia Investments in June 2013 and an undisclosed investment from angel investor and musician D.A. Wallach, who sits on the company’s advisory board. Mullins declined to disclose where the company’s other funding came from. Daqri has about 350 employees.