Industrial uses for augmented reality (AR) wearables are on the rise, and earlier this year California startup Daqri launched an Intel-powered smart helmet. The third version of the helmet is now available in a $15,000 developer edition that debuted on October 31.

The new helmet arrives just in time for an AR market that is predicted to hit $90 billion by 2020, with VR pegged for $30 billion by 2020, according to Digi-Capital.

“It’s been in the last year or two where augmented reality is where you can use it to solve hard problems. It’s an exciting time for the industry,” said Daqri CEO Brian Mullins, who founded the company in 2010.

The helmet includes four cameras to help in assessing problems in the field by sending video in real-time to a technician in the office who can view what the on-site worker is seeing.

“This is the first helmet that customers can work with directly and roll out. It’s based on the last three years of working closely with key partners and designing specifically for field engineers. There are smart workers and they use valuable and sensitive instruments to get the job done. It connects them to more information, more knowledge, and it allows them to make better decisions,” Mullins said.

The company was originally located in Santa Monica, but when it outgrew that space in 2013, there wasn’t enough room to expand in the area. Daqri moved to downtown Los Angeles, which has a thriving tech scene, Mullins explained. Daqri also has offices in the UK, Ireland, and Austria.

SEE: AR and VR: The future of work and play? (ZDNet)

Hands-on experience with the heads-up display

During a visit to Daqri’s headquarters, I tried on the smart helmet, which looks like a gleaming white motorcycle helmet, and was surprisingly light and comfortable to wear.

I tested it in a series of applications. In the first, I was a field worker, assessing pipes, and as I looked at the pipes on the wall, someone from my fictional company’s main office was able to remotely direct me through the repair job. They were able to see what I was seeing, and circle the problem areas and explain to me, through the helmet’s speakers, what I needed to repair and how to do it. Of course, in reality I was simply speaking to a member of Daqri’s PR team, who sat 20 feet away from me, but the concept was clear, and highly effective.

In another scenario, with thermal imaging activated, I felt a bit like the lethal alien in “Predator.” I was able to see which pipes glowed bright yellow, signifying heat, and which ones were red, signifying no heat. This is ideal for a quick scan of an area where mechanical components should remain at a steady temperature and not become overheated. It’s also fun for viewing people, although I felt like a bit of a voyeur.

Mullins said, “Augmented reality isn’t about augmented reality. It’s about augmenting people.” He explained that people are smart, and if they have enough information, they can make the right decision. The helmet is ideal for all levels of field workers, from people on their first day at the job, to experienced technicians.

While the smart helmet is ideal for industrial settings, there’s also the consumer market. Daqri is working on a heads-up display for car windshields after acquiring Two Trees Photonics, a UK-based company that designs holographic technology, in March 2016. The laser-based technology projects information onto a vehicle’s windshield for a futuristic heads-up display powered by holograms.

I was also given a chance to see this new technology for vehicles. It’s the ultimate way to use GPS, or be forewarned that another car is nearby. The hologram appears as an overlay on the lower right side of the car windshield, so that it doesn’t block the driver’s view of the road, but still allows for information to be shared with the driver.

“Consumers will see augmented reality in their car before they see it in any other form factor. Three to five years down the road, you’ll see it more and more,” Mullins said.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. On October 31, Daqri released a $15,000 developers kit for its AR smart helmet.
  2. AR and VR is predicted to be a $120 billion market by 2020, and only $30 billion of that will be VR, according to Digi-Capital.
  3. Daqri is also making a heads-up display for car windshields after acquiring UK-based Two Trees Photonics earlier this year.

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