Atheer plans an augmented reality-equipped hardhat

Prototype Atheer One and developer kit glasses, as of December 2013. Photo by Signe Brewster

Atheer’s planned consumer augmented reality glasses may be no more, but the startup is already busy preparing to release a different first product: a hardhat.

“We want to introduce a new category of electronics to nurses, to doctors, to construction workers,” CTO and Co-counder Allen Yang said in an interview. “Fundamentally, they don’t want to wear another thing if they don’t have to. For construction workers, they are required to wear helmets. They are required to wear safety glasses anyway. We can transform our technology into something they can use on a daily basis.”

The helmet will feature a visor that has all of the capabilities of Atheer’s regular augmented reality glasses–from viewing the blueprints for an engine to pulling up images and emails. It will be most useful for people working in construction, oil, mining, mechanical engineering and any other field that calls for doing messy physical work while also relying on digital information, according to CEO and Co-founder Soulaiman Itani.

Atheer's developer kit augmented reality headset at the Augmented World Expo in May. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Atheer’s developer kit augmented reality headset at the Augmented World Expo in May. Photo by Signe Brewster.

“They need to be doing something physical with their hands, … but also they need to look up data and share information with other people and get other people’s perspective on things,” Itani said. “Currently the best solution they have is they have these ruggedized tablets. They need to take it, scan something, maybe communicate, send images to someone back at the base and look up information, then put the thing down, try to do some work and pick it up again.”

Helmets are actually suited to integrating with augmented reality glasses. One of the most difficult parts of building a headset is shrinking the electronics down to a size that can perch on a person’s nose without causing strain. Atheer can now place electronics in the walls of the helmets, giving the startup a lot more space to work with.

During a demo, Yang showcased how Atheer’s software has progressed beyond a simple Android OS to being compatible with just about any software. Using an Atheer developer headset, he used a series of gestures to wirelessly connect to a laptop running Windows, laying the Windows desktop over his vision. Yang noted that a laptop could be in the same room or at a distant location; it doesn’t matter.

Atheer's OS at the Augmented World Expo in May. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Atheer’s OS at the Augmented World Expo in May. Photo by Signe Brewster.

Atheer is about halfway done developing the helmet and plans to go from pilot orders to large-scale shipments by the end of the year. It will then move into medical applications. Its current timeline calls for a small number of headsets in hospitals by the end of next year. After that will come retail and automotive applications, and then a possible return to making consumer headsets.

Itani noted that the first industries Atheer is working with are the ones that have tried many, many other options. They have a clear need for augmented reality, which can help employees check that cables are all in the right places and negate the need to develop antimicrobial surfaces for tablets. It sounds like the right move for a company that has agonized to me several times about how slowly electronics are shrinking in size and how difficult it is to make what is currently available fashionable enough for consumers. Working with enterprise partners will hopefully help Atheer pin down the experience perfectly before returning to consumers.

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