There's a rugged new tablet in town, and it's a head-mounted Android wearable. While it sounds like the ultimate in geeky headwear, it's not. The HMT-1 is a discreet small screen that is designed to be worn with an industrial helmet for workers in the field, factory, or warehouse without obstructing the user's vision.
Silicon Valley-based RealWear released the HMT-1 in March 2017 to a limited audience of approximately 65 companies, including Exxon, Hewlett-Packard, GE, Nokia, PTC, Dell, Walmart, Skanska, and OSIsoft.
The HMT-1 supports 10 languages and is designed for industrial workers who need to be hands-free while talking to consultants at a home office or other location. It gives workers the ability to show consultants what is being seen in real time in the field, if assistance is needed with a repair or other job while the worker is on site.
There are 10 years of research and $35 million in development that has gone into the creation of the HMT-1. Andy Lowery, CEO of RealWear, describes the voice recognition system as "our special sauce" because it incorporates two different algorithms and two different microphones.
The first prototype was completed in October 2016. And in February 2017, the second beta build was released, and 60 units were shipped to customers on March 1, 2017 for 40-50 pilot programs. In May 2017, an additional 240 units shipped, and 60 were kept to test in a lab setting at RealWear. The beta program will shut down after these pilots are completed, and production will begin for August 2017 shipments to the general public at less than $1,500 per unit. The price will be based on the number of units sold to each company, with bulk orders dropping to approximately $1,000 per unit.
SEE: Augmented reality gaining more traction than virtual reality in the enterprise (Tech Pro Research)
Lowery is experienced in augmented reality. He was the president of DAQRI, which produces smart helmets, as previously written about in TechRepublic. Before that, Lowery was chief engineer at Raytheon, and he was also a Naval nuclear warfare expert. In early 2016, he joined RealWear, which has Chris Parkinson at its CTO. Parkinson was previously with Kopin, where he was on the Golden-i wearable system team.
The deep customer base for the HMT- 1 is impressive. Walmart is using the devices for in-store inspections and construction, and Dell is using them for remote data centers, Lowery said.
In addition, Duke Energy, working with Verizon and EPRI, recently completed a pilot with a new application they built to take photos of power poles. After an earthquake or tornado, the application uses AR to provide an overlay to the scene for side-by-side comparisons for surveyors to use for repairs. There are plans to roll it out to 12 additional utility companies, Lowery said.
And UPS is using it for automotive inspections, as well as helping workers repair trucks, Lowery said.
The product, when released mainstream, will be a mature, ready-to-scale product due to testing with the early adopters, Lowery said.
"That's something I really think is missing in the space. There aren't a lot of companies with the maturity of product background, unless you look at Google or Apple or Samsung. We kind of have that sweet blend between experience and knowing what a good, mature commercial product looks like," Lowery said.
The problem with introducing a new product to the enterprise is that it can take 5-6 years on average before it's accepted, due to fear of a product failing. Lowery said his company's product is simply an Android tablet that is voice-driven rather than being a hand-gesture tablet, so he hopes that speeds adoption.
"I can get to scalability a lot quicker. As far as the outside of it goes, it looks a little bit like a Caesar's crown. The system runs around the head like a horseshoe. It's either supported by a bunch of comfort strap features, or it can clip onto a hard helmet," he said.
"I've embraced the ecosystem," Lowery said, describing the design of the HMT-1. "I've taken a more modular approach. You can add a thermal camera, for instance. If you don't need it, you don't get it. If you want a sulfur sniffer for gas detection, you can clip that accessory on. It's all a very modular hardware and software system."
Rob Enderle, an analyst with Enderle Group, said, "RealWear provides a rugged wearable display for people that are mobile and need work with both their hands often for safety while looking at a screen. It uses well tested and reliable technology and it is relatively reasonably priced for something that sells in low volumes for targeted markets. In the end, for the industries that need this, it is the closest thing to an ideal solution right now."
Top 3 takeaways for TechRepublic readers
- The HMT-1 is a modular Android tablet worn as headgear for industrial applications.
- The device has been beta tested by dozens of top companies, and it will be released for general sale in August 2017.
- The starting price will be under $1,500 per unit for each HMT-1.
- AR and VR: The future of work and play? (ZDNet)
- Ten industries using augmented reality and virtual reality (ZDNet)
- Photos: 10 augmented reality devices that will change the way you see the world around you (TechRepublic)
- Augmented workers: 3 ways tech is augmenting the ways we get things done (TechRepublic)
- Intel shows helmet that gives you X-ray vision (CNET)
- Executive's guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook) (TechRepublic)
- Virtual and augmented reality policy (Tech Pro Research)
- The Ultimate Android Course for Complete Beginners (TechRepublic)
Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including People, W and Women's Wear Daily.