Los Angeles–based tech company Daqri recently released the latest version of its Smart Helmet, a futuristic-looking hard hat outfitted with augmented reality (AR) technology geared towards industries such as construction, manufacturing, and mining. Combining Daqri's proprietary computer vision system, Intellitrack, with native AR software, the helmet's visor allows users to employ AR in open environments for the first time, according to the company. With this helmet, construction workers, for example, can sense and map their surroundings using a 4D display and visual-inertial navigation—a feature that enables users to identify where they are in space. The helmet also has object recognition and real-time data capture and visualization capabilities. ARCHITECT interviewed Brian Mullins, Daqri founder and CEO, to learn more about this novel addition to the growing market of wearable technology.

ARCHITECT: How did you come up with the idea for the Smart Helmet?
Mullins: It was critical that we had an [AR] device that was designed for industrial environments. Devices that were designed for consumers wouldn't be sufficient to meet those needs. From that realization, [we saw] that making the device work with personal protective equipment would be made easier if we created the system from the ground up.

How long have you been working on this?
We have been working on Daqri Smart Helmet for about two years and went through 19 iterations of the design to make a product that meets the requirements of our customers and their environments. The development stages and the early models allowed us to learn and adapt along the way. While the current Daqri Smart Helmet meets our goal of making an AR device you can wear at work all day long, it required a lot more technology than first anticipated. The [latest] version of the helmet is significantly more powerful than we imagined would be possible in a wearable form factor.

Have you had any beta testers?
We have had a large number of beta testers across industries such as power and water, oil and gas, manufacturing, construction, and mining. Thanks to those early engagements, we have learned a lot about what the product needs to be and how significant of an impact AR can have at work.

Can you describe how the helmet was designed, both in its integration of AR technology and how it compares in look and feel to a typical construction “hard hat”?
It was designed to re-imagine what personal protective equipment could be like with the inclusion of AR and sensor technologies. Every step of our design process at Daqri focuses on the worker and how they experience the world around them while they are using the helmet. This led us to a relentless focus on wearability and performance. After all, AR isn't actually about augmenting reality, it's about augmenting people—and that comes with a responsibility to make their lives and their work better.

Why did you use the word “helmet” instead of “hard hat”?
We wanted anyone wearing our product to be empowered and inspired by the device. As they went about their work, we wanted them to feel as if the future had arrived. When starting the design process, we knew the goal was for the helmet to feel as indispensable as an astronaut's helmet. Along the way, the name stuck and is still important to us.

Does this offer the same safety protections as a typical construction helmet?
Daqri Smart Helmets are expected to carry the same certifications for personal protection equipment as those a worker is used to wearing today. Certification is an ongoing process and we expect to share additional details as they progress.

In what industries or markets do you see Smart Helmet being used and why?
Power and water, oil and gas, manufacturing, construction, and mining. Workplace safety is a very important area in those fields that it has been designed to address. It will improve safety across major workplace hazards.

How will it change the way people work?
By providing them with timely information when and where they need it to make workers safer, more productive, reduce errors, and free them to address more important issues [on the job].

What is Daqri’s Intellitrack, and how is it used in the Smart Helmet?
Intellitrack is Daqri's computer vision system that allows the worker to know where they are [on the jobsite] and to interact seamlessly with AR content even in completely new environments. Intellitrack is an integral part of the helmet's software and hardware design, allowing it to perform in the most demanding indoor and outdoor environments.

Other augmented and virtual reality tools have struggled to gain traction in the market, specifically in business applications. How is Daqri different?
Early devices targeted consumers who were [concerned about] price points and therefore were not as valuable in enterprise markets. In business environments, capabilities must drive product decisions in order to empower workers who use the products to create a return for the companies that invest in them.

The Daqri Smart Helmet is set to be released to the public in mid-March, with final pricing not available at this time.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.