THE WORLD’S SMARTEST HARD HAT
An Interview with Gaia Dempsey, Daqri International MD
At first glance it looks a lot like the hard hats worn on construction sites the world over. Take a second look and you’ll see one of the most advanced industrial wearables ever designed. Created by Augmented Reality pioneers Daqri, it’s called the Daqri Smart Helmet and the company claim it represents ‘The Future of Work.’
It has all day battery life, supports HD video recording, photography, 3D mapping, and alphanumeric capture. It has a 360º multi-array camera (2x in front 2x in back) and Daqri have created a custom-built operating system for it. They say that it ‘sets a new standard for professional-grade wearables.’
It’s designed specifically for industrial applications so it won’t be cheap. It won’t be available to try on at your local electronics store. Nonetheless, it may have a genuine shot at shaking up the future of work and changing the world.
How’s that for smart?
Listen in & read on to find out more.
MEETING GAIA DEMPSEY
Gaia Dempsey is the Managing Director of Daqri International and the Co-Founder of its parent company Daqri. We meet, on the final day of the Wearable Technology Show 2015. I am half expecting her to arrive with an assistant, but she’s alone and greets me with a warm smile and friendly handshake.
She’s personable and easy to like, with an intense aura and a questioning intellect. Once the interview begins, she chooses her words carefully, occasionally pausing for an extra half-second while considering the next thing she wants to say. What she does say, about Daqri and the future of AR in industry is fascinating.
Dempsey says that creating the Daqri Smart Helmet has presented the company with a tremendous number of challenges because the product incorporates such a huge number of software techniques and hardware capabilities.
It’s been the work of several years, during which time Daqri has pivoted, from working on commercial AR, towards meeting the high-stakes demands of the enterprise market. They are now pilot-testing with a select group of Fortune 500 companies, a process Dempsey says is due to conclude in June. The product is slated to ship shortly after.
‘We’re starting with high-mix; high-value scenarios, where there are high error rates and huge stakes on the line’ she says, ‘but this will eventually find its way we believe, into many different types of industrial settings.’
As a first-mover in an untapped market, Daqri is well positioned. With wearables now rapidly entering the consumer mainstream the company feel the time is right to introduce a radical new technology into the industrial workplace.
‘We have the chance to be the next Industrial Revolution, to be a part of that’ says Dempsey. ‘There’s the potential here to be at the start of an S-Curve, a new huge improvement in the way that work is done.’
INSIDE THE SMART HELMET
The Smart Helmet uses two Snapdragon processor chips and runs a custom version of Android. It can store data from both its cameras and sensors on removable flash cartridges and Daqri promise a hands-free wearable HD display, readable in both low-light and bright ambient conditions.
The core of the product is its Intellitrack.™ software, a computer vision capability that utilises Visual-Inertial Navigation combined with an industrial grade Visual-Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). It measures changes in an object’s spatial orientation and can dynamically map a surrounding environment. This capability, combined with a hands-free display, provides the wearer with contextual information that is overlaid directly onto the workspace.
Users can also access Enterprise Resource Planning data, putting logistics, inventory and shipping information directly into their field of view. Dempsey says that companies will be able to create libraries of text, photo, audio and video to help in the completion of tasks and in accessing technical and reference materials.
Placing information directly on top of the work environment will help to locate specific parts and show workers what next actions need to be taken. The Smart Helmet will also allow for remote support and provide the ability dynamically view an engineers workplace from another location.
‘It has a huge number of sensors’ says Dempsey. ‘We talk about augmented reality most of the time as augmented vision, but the Smart Helmet gives you capabilities beyond. We call it Computer Enhanced Vision. Just by wearing the Smart Helmet, you can measure anything that you’re looking at.’
Using the output from a high-resolution infrared sensor, the Smart Helmet can create a depth map of its environment. The visual navigation system blends camera information and IMU data together to maintain an accurate understanding of both context and space.
AUTHORING A REVOLUTION
To help in the creation of content for the Smart Helmet. Daqri has devised an authoring tool called Industrial 4D Studio. Dempsey says it will tie in seamlessly to existing 3D CAD systems, allowing Mechanical Designers and Engineers to create work packages in their existing CAD software. These work packages will pair with the Smart Helmet, creating bespoke content for a particular workplace or factory.
Dempsey says this process will greatly decrease errors because orientation and placement information can be presented in the most intuitive form possible, right on top of where the work is being done. Furthermore, she says the system can be updated in real-time.
‘It step-by-step allows you to create workflows and to create processes that can be customised to the work that’s being done; the particular piece of equipment that needs to be maintained or operated upon’ she says.
Software that can track activity, monitor for error, and provide customised feedback will provide workers with much deeper assistance and oversight in the performance of critical operations. Daqri also wants to network the camera systems from multiple Smart Helmets in a future update and Dempsey reveals they have plans to go further.
‘In the next generation, we’re going to be integrating an internal sensor’ she says. ‘There’s also a lot of value in internally sensing the human. We recently announced that we had acquired a neuroscience hardware company called Melon. They create an EEG headband that allows you to track stress and focus levels. The next generation of the Melon headband is also going to be able to sense skin temperature and heart-rate. So, that increases your safety in a field-force work environment.’
Dempsey stresses this data offers important net gains for workers and employers. ‘It’s empowering the user to know their levels of focus, productivity, and stress, and have greater data and greater confidence in the work that they’re doing’ she says.
Giving early warnings for heart-attacks, stress, overheating or exhaustion while operating critical machinery, is a clear and beneficial use of the technology. But, the personal and sensitive nature of biometric data storage will require that considerable discussion and debate happen before workplace adoption begins at a significant scale.
If it can meet the challenges of manufacturing its complex product, Daqri has a device that can bring dramatic changes in industrial manufacturing. They are on the leading edge of a rapidly rising wave, with the potential to reshape the way that companies and employees work.
A factory-floor peopled with workers wearing Daqri’s Smart Helmet will be very different from one operating today. It will merge both physical and digital controls and bring about a radical shift in the nature of industrial workplace design.
Industrial robots operated by humans and software will allow for smart production, inspection and manipulation. Workers will function differently, both individually and collectively, because their skill-sets, educational backgrounds and working methods will be optimised to suit new types of production facilities.
Dempsey is keenly aware of this and believes that industrial wearables and augmented reality will bring a wide range of benefits both to companies and directly to workers.
‘When you change the way that somebody works, when you give them a tool that empowers them to do their jobs better, to be more effective; to instantly access knowledge that they didn’t have before you transform that persons idea of themselves’ she says.
THE FUTURE OF WORK?
The promise of industrial wearables like Daqri’s Smart Helmet is to reduce complexity and improve our ability without removing from us the essential gifts that make us human.
They are available to guide us, to supplement us and even to enhance us. They can allow us to become more than we can be without them, they can give us ‘superpowers.’
They promise to increase our safety and our productivity while allowing us to become the better people we often believe ourselves to be. They promise that we do not have to surrender our futures to the precise endeavours of our machines, but instead we can reclaim them, by allowing them onto our bodies and giving them access to our senses.
The Daqri Smart Helmet is a tool, one that points the way towards a re-imagined future. An artefact from our industrial past, re-created for the work of tomorrow. If we can reshape the future of work, we can also reshape ourselves and in doing so, we can change the future of our world.