This last week I had the pleasure to discover my first glimpse of the DAQRI universe and I have to say the experience was profoundly intriguing. Before I go into detail, this company is exceptionally good at presenting what they do, so best to let them put it in their own words.
Makers of 4D. DAQRI’s augmented reality software and hardware set the standard for the next generation in industrial, storytelling, and educational technologies.
This Nor Cal Explorer segment is going to be “one of a kind” because I have to say I am definitely geeking out about this company! Where to start?! Let me begin with a quick aside on something I have been following for many years - the concept of smart helmets or headsets. Plenty has been covered about the likes of Google Glass for instance, but I was never really impressed with the idea of making some kind of heads up wearable for its own sake. More to my tastes are the application of such technology for specific purposes because that forces you to be creative and push the boundaries of design and engineering beyond the merely superficial. For a great example, I like to point out the Oakley Airwave. Check this out for our starting frame of reference.
Note: Tap images to explore links, media, and other resources related to this presentation.
Now if you tap through the image at the top of this post I will send you to the DAQRI website where you will find the DAQRI smart helmet featured with a video describing what it involves. I will get to that, but I have to say as a first impression for a brand and product suite I had no idea of, the experience was impressive to say the least. This is a bit of an understatement coming from me, because as many of you may know, I moonlight on occasion as a modern business consultant – doing analyses of brands, their digital strategies, and the outcomes of the online experiences they produce. DAQRI does well.
So what is this 4rth dimension? We know 3D, but what is this 4D? You can find yourself entering the realms of some pretty sophisticated mathematics for this – which isn’t a bad idea if you are interested in recruiting some of the best technology developers. I will take a stab at it and say we can understand the 3 dimensions of space in an image being height, width, and depth - as in that added dimension that gives a picture the tangibility of a real object in your field of view – you know, 3D. I am guessing 4D would have something to do with “context” such that you might see a 3D object in front of you, but that you could as a basis rotate yourself to walk around it – to provide that extra dimension of “reality” whereby you can actually interact with an object.
We are not talking about “virtual reality” as in the technology to immerse oneself in a digitally produced reality i.e. “The Matrix”. We are talking about “reality” itself “augmented” by technology. It is an aspiration at the forefront of the human condition and the imagination. Interestingly enough there is a Matrix scene that touches on this. See above. What may have only been fathomable in the movies – to put on some kind of headset and have some kind of computer interface heads up display you can interact with – all this is becoming a reality. The research and development has been out there maturing for some time, but DAQRI is one of the first to synthesize it into a market ready product which can actually help people be more productive … as they like to call it, “The Future of Work”.
At the risk of just repeating what you can better discover through their website, they have put an intentional focus for applying the technology in an industrial setting. This is pretty sharp if you think about it because aside from military uses, 4D augmented reality technology needs some kind of commercial application sufficient to continue development of capabilities while providing ROI to client customers. In other words, it has to do something that involves people, the material world, information, etc, - that actually makes the users money at scale.
This is one strategic approach to justify the costs to the customer while accommodating the costs of research, development, and of course profitability. Where Oakley might have a relatively limited budget to continue development of its sports performance related product, a commercial industrial niche makes terrific sense for the viability and long-term sustainability of DAQRI’s cutting-edge endeavor. Something tells me this is more about minimum viability right now- where the potential for the underlying platforms they are developing might be more universal. Fascinating.
Let’s keep this going because, for me, most of what I do stems from a background in industrial technologies and organizational problem solving. I’ve got plenty of background information for you to read about how I went into the Marine Corps and learned avionics technology, how this evolved to industrial systems engineering, and eventually brought me around to my current projects delving into customer relationship management and digital strategy for superior market intimacy. So from my systems engineering background, a product and platform like DAQRI is right up my alley. It’s some pretty nerdy stuff to tell you the truth, but I can put it simply… yeah, if you want I’m just a blogger, lol!
Putting things simply is really an essential aspect of solving problems involving groups of people. Some of my biggest influences in the systems engineering fields talk about reducing complexity and cognitive overhead… yep, dumbing things down for people. Right now for instance, if you care to know, I am doing a study on cognitive science, linguistics, and communication. I know for a fact that most people will NOT care to know this, lol! Nonetheless, one of the first things you learn if you study a formal engineering discipline is the importance of visual communications – drawings, diagrams, schematics, and the like – because it takes more than an engineer to produce something, it takes teams of people of various professional specializations across a range of technical knowledge.
This brings us back to 4D and a smart helmet that can visually represent and communicate the world around you. I know that some of the best industrial solutions I have implemented for clients have involved proposals with “pictures” illustrating current state vs. future state. Explaining it to decision makers is not typically enough, but if you can help them imagine what it would look like, how it would work better, and drop some data along with that to establish a financial basis for the improvement – well then you stand a better chance of getting through than if you stand there lecturing them (or worse asking them to read about) engineering concepts.
DAQRI has a way of balancing on the continuum between simplicity and complexity which I really like. I would not put it past them to have this as an intentional quality. I want to point out the picture I used to lead off this article because I believe it communicates a design statement. There is this ambition as I pointed out to develop heads up display type technology that superimposes over one’s field of view but which at the same time does not get in the way. Using semi-transparency for the graphic interface is one approach, but a far less thought about idea is to use invisible lines, shapes, etc. This can be done by offering just enough shadow or highlighting to give someone the impression something is there, what it is, but at the same time not interfering with their field of view and otherwise being easy to disregard. You can see this kind of thinking in the DAQRI smart helmet, but this design concept goes right to the brain in principle. See Piaget’s work on centration, indices, and signifiers.
Case in point: DAQRI recently tweeted:
MIT claims to have found a “language universal” that ties all languages together. http://arstechnica.com/science/2015/08/mit-claims-to-have-found-a-language-universal-that-ties-all-languages-together
So I am personally just loving this stuff! Let me give you a little backstory on what I was doing in college (almost 20 years ago). I left Northern California to study in St. Louis Missouri and spent a lot of time at Washington University participating in some research influenced by Piaget’s Mechanisms of Perception, and the integration of technologies worn as headsets involving biofeedback etc. It’s why I am studying linguistics right now…same thing. The universality of language opens the door to cognition, how the brain and mind operate, but specifically with conceptual models like language, images, thoughts, etc. Any advance in these kinds of technologies will fall short of potential without an understanding of how to complement and augment the human condition… and that in itself might be what we are really talking about when we say 4D.
After college I spent this sort of endless summer back in California before I decided to join the Marines. This was a hugely influential time for me and much of it because of a few roommates I had moved in with who were MIT engineers. I was living in Santa Cruz when by chance encounter happened to get into an intellectual conversation with these people. They were living and working in neighboring Sunnyvale which is at the heart of Silicon Valley, and after meeting me insisted I spend the summer with them.
There is the tie in then between DAQRI and this Nor Cal Explorer segment. I was checking out their careers page and realized they are in Northern California. They are headquartered in Los Angeles, but not surprising to find they have a presence in Sunnyvale as well.
I am excited to see the evolution of this company and their platform. To me, it is not just the hardware they developed, but the fact they had to develop the software to support it – virtually a new language and operating system from scratch. The smart helmet is interesting, but if the platform progresses as I imagine it could, then sooner than later this is something that may be in everyone’s field of view … literally.
In the meantime, I do appreciate the industrial applications. I spent the last few years revisiting my old college grounds in St. Louis and had the opportunity to work with an aerospace manufacturing company. They were unique in being a Low Mix/ High Volume machining type operation with automated robotic and manual operator CNC. They had unlimited demand to “produce as much as they could” for their customers, but with their rapid growth and production ramping they had the typical organizational challenges that come with this like struggling with consistency of quality. They incorporated CMM, a precision measurement analyses, but it was slow and still delayed response time while batches of faulty product were being produced. Things like this were really slowing this company down, but I was imagining what might be done if operators had DAQRI smart helmets capable of measuring the dimensions of machined material as soon as they pulled the parts. As a platform, the same could be done with the robots.
There is this idea that technology can be used to free up people from the menial tasks that slow them down and free them to put their minds to use where creative problem solving is required. It is a brilliant idea by the way! There are machines and computers – these things propose that kind of value, but they can sometimes seem to upsell their value at the expense of the human element. It’s only natural to do so. If your selling point is “it takes less people”, then in principle there may not be the kind of driving force you need to produce products with human efficiency, usability, and pressures in mind. Imagine a company now that develops technology “with people” in mind – products that deliver information, experiences, and utilities in just the right way in the right place at the right time.
It opens up a whole new dimension to the challenges of work which have otherwise not been accounted for. I wonder what kind of competitive advantage can be found now that a new universe of possibilities is becoming a reality.
Lastly, why did I look into DAQRI in the first place? It was really just a happy coincidence for me. I was touching base with a friend I used to play soccer with at Wash U in St. Louis who moved to LA. It was just in passing that I noticed he worked for some company called DAQRI so I thought I might take a look. Glad I did!