Can this explosion-proof AR headset change how industries do business?

Augmented reality (AR) hasn’t truly permeated the mainstream consciousness yet, but the technology is swiftly being adopted by global industries. It’ll soon be unsurprising to find a pair of AR glasses strapped to a helmet sitting on the heads of service workers, and RealWear, a company at the forefront on developing these headsets, thinks it’s on the edge of something big.

RealWear has worked to ensure its headsets are both well-designed and easy to use. Think Google Glass, but bulkier and attached to a hardhat or cap. It’s immensely useful technology that can help workers access digital data without using their hands, stream video back to another team member, or receive guidance during training periods.

realwear hmt 1z1 augmented reality headset 1
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

The latest version of its AR headset is called the RealWear HMT-1Z1, recently unveiled at Augmented World Expo (AWE) in California. It’s billed as the first “intrinsically safe” headset — which in layman’s terms means it’s explosion-proof. 

Explosion-proof and designed for tight spaces

Perhaps the most important aspect of the RealWear HMT-1Z1 is its design. After all, the headset needs to be lightweight and comfortable to be adopted by industrial workers, and it must quickly get out of the way when the wearer doesn’t need it. The HMT-1Z1 is designed for tight spaces — it fits on standard hard hats, and while it does add a bit of extra weight and width to a helmet, it doesn’t extend anywhere close to the wearer’s shoulders — which means it should fit anywhere a human can fit.

There’s an arm on the side of the helmet that extends in front of the wearer’s eye, and it can be moved out of the way when it’s not in use. It’s here where a display is stored that workers will look at when they need visual information to help with the task at hand. RealWear said you can still use parts of the headset when you’re not looking directly at the display, which is why the camera is not directly attached to the arm (it sits higher up).

The whole thing reminds us a lot of Toshiba’s recently announced AR headset, which the company told us is as important as the laptop it invented back in 1985.

realwear hmt 1z1 augmented reality headset 3
Christian de Looper / Digital Trends

Safety is a big deal in the industrial world. The headset is completely free from any sparks or micro-sparks that could result in disaster for certain hazardous environments, such as places with flammable gases, for example. Companies can begin to do away with those bulky, ruggedized tablets they’ve been carrying around factories and move to the HMT-1Z1.

Under the hood, the headset boasts a Snapdragon 625 processor, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, and a 3,250mAh battery rated for up to a hefty 12 hours of use, though that will depend on exactly what you’re doing with the headset.

Voice activation

What’s most impressive about the RealWear HMT-1Z1 is how you control it. There’s no touch-sensitive gestures you need to learn — it’s all managed with voice, and better yet, there’s no need for a hotword like “Hey Google.” The headset listens for certain commands. For example, from the home screen just say “show my files” to see files downloaded to the device, and you can go back to the home screen by saying “navigate home.” When you’re looking at documents — like schematics — you can say “zoom in” or “zoom out” to change focus. It worked almost flawlessly, even in a noisy environment like the AWE show floor.

That’s an important factor to consider. If you’re a worker repairing a factory component, you don’t want to have to mess around with physical controls, and you need to easily navigate through the software, which is based on Android. From each screen, there are a few voice commands you can give, and options are often numbered too, so instead of having to remember the names of things, you can simply select them based on their number.

The future of AR

AR has a place with businesses, and as RealWear explains, this interest will only grow as younger employees who grew up in the information age continue to join the work force. Some aspects of RealWear’s tech, we think, could very much be applied to consumer augmented reality in the future. It’s exciting to see the technology grow, and we can’t wait for AR glasses to trickle down further for consumers.

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