We’ve seen a few customers weighing up the RealWear HMT-1 with the HoloLens 2. Since we’ve worked with industrial companies of various sizes and in different industries, we thought about which aspects of RealWear HMT-1 and the HoloLens 2 we would be looking at if we were in their shoes, looking to deploy an XR app.
The disclaimer here is that we’ve recently partnered with RealWear, although one reason for us selecting RealWear as a partner is precisely their suitability for the industrial scenarios our customers operate in. Having said that, we’re not financially incentivized to promote RealWear nor do we necessarily believe it’s the best tool for all situations.
This is one area where the RealWear HMT-1 and HoloLens 2 are most different. The HMT-1 has an opaque display – you can’t see through it – whereas the HoloLens 2 is partially transparent.
The idea with the HoloLens 2 is that 3D objects and application screens are situated in the real world, where you can interact with them using your hands, speaking or by moving your head or eyes. It achieves this through the use of multiple cameras on the headset that constantly track your movements relative to what it can discern as objects in your environment. This high-tech approach leads to some battery life and usability limitations, but more on those later.
One of the most compelling arguments I’ve heard for preferring an opaque display, as the RealWear HMT-1 has, is that it’s the best way to view PDF files, a format made to look like paper documents. Since PDF is perhaps the most commonly used file format for schematics, construction plans, invoices, and other reference documents, it makes sense to have the ability to display them well – which generally includes not having them be transparent.
You can display an opaque PDF on the HoloLens 2 too, but the virtual document will become a real world visual obstruction that could jeopardize worker safety.
I should also note that you can display and interact with 3D objects on the HMT-1, they’ll just have an opaque background and interactions will happen through voice commands or moving your head, not with your hands.
We can imagine there could be niche use cases requiring the HoloLens 2 in industrial settings although we haven’t seen any processes requiring this ourselves. For widespread adoption, however, the HMT-1’s display type seems to support the widest range of requirements, with safety being the paramount requirement.
- An illustration of the HoloLens 2 in its tilted up position.
The HoloLens 2’s display configuration consists of two transparent screens, placed just in front of the eyes, with a rounded visor protecting them. The screens are close enough to your eyes that you see the HoloLens interface just about wherever you look while you’re wearing the device. You can tip the display up if you need a less obstructed view, if you’re not wearing a hardhat, although it will still obscure parts of your field of vision.
With the RealWear HMT-1, the display is housed in a small pod at the end of a boom arm that extends from above either your left or right ear, depending on how you wear the device. I’ve found it most convenient to have the display pod very near my right cheek bone, available to glance at whenever necessary. With some optical magic, this small display appears to your eye as a 7-inch tablet held at arm’s length, providing a form factor familiar to anyone who’s worked with mobile apps.
To be clear: both of these display configurations work. There’s some getting used to 3D objects disappearing from your field of view as you move your head while wearing the HoloLens 2, but then there’s also some getting used to looking at the display pod. However, in industrial environments workers need to stay safe around workplace hazards and for that the RealWear HMT-1 is the device that least obstructs their field of view.
- The rugged RealWear HMT-1 can clip into hardhats and attach to bump caps. © 2021 RealWear, Inc.
If you’re using your hands to do work on a facility floor or in the field, you can’t tap on a screen to capture data or navigate through an app. Head-mounted wearables provide a solution for this problem through allowing users to navigate through apps using voice commands. Notes are dictated, app interactions are spoken (e.g. “next step”; “take picture”)
However, as anyone who’s been in an industrial setting knows, these are places with no shortage of decibels going around. Noise cancellation capabilities are therefore crucial for the normal functioning of industrial wearable devices.
We haven’t tested the noise cancellation capabilities of the HoloLens 2 but have been impressed by the HMT’s ability to easily recognize voice commands with high levels of background noise (up to 95db). This is probably helped by the fact that two of the HMT’s four microphones are located on the boom arm, close to the mouth. By contrast, the microphones on the HoloLens 2 are above the eyes. Whichever device you consider, test it in the most noisy environment first.
This is important in industrial settings where workers need access to digital tools and files throughout the duration of their shifts. We’ll account for this when we get to the price comparison below.
- Many use cases for mixed reality apps are for processes that take place outdoors, such as inspections and maintenance jobs. © 2021 RealWear, Inc.
While we can’t say we’ve tested this for ourselves, our customers have reported that HoloLens 2 devices don’t perform well outdoors. The reason for this seems to be that the HoloLens 2 is constantly monitoring the user’s environment because it presents visuals as being located in the real world around the user.
If the HoloLens 2 can’t make sense of the user’s environment, it can’t effectively place visuals (data tables, buttons, 3D models) within that environment.
This issue is clearly documented by Microsoft:
“Windows Mixed Reality uses visual light to track the user’s location. When an environment is too bright, the cameras can get saturated, and nothing is seen.”
“Areas where there are points of bright light in an overall dim area are also problematic, as the camera has to adjust when moving in and out of bright spaces. This can cause the device to ‘get lost’ and think that the change in light equates to a change in location. Stable light levels in an area will lead to better tracking.”
We don’t know of many industrial scenarios where processes take place inside, with no risk of flashing lights or moving equipment. (We’ve written about what our customers say are the leading processes for mixed reality apps.)
Comparing apples with apples here is complicated by the HoloLens 2 not being ruggedized while the RealWear HMT-1 is (rated to be dust proof, water resistant and survive drops).
Both devices also have intrinsically safe versions. The intrinsically safe version of the HoloLens 2, the Industrial Edition, is ruggedized. So while industrial companies could get by with the standard RealWear HMT-1 in most cases, they will probably have to rely on the HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition for most of their needs.
The two intrinsically safe versions are also rated differently with the RealWear HMT-1Z1 being rated for Class 1 Div 1 while the HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition is only rated for Class 1 Div 2, limiting the areas it could safely be used.
The table below shows the price difference between all four device versions:
|Version||HMT-1||HMT-1Z1||HoloLens 2||HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition|
|Battery Life||9 hours||9 hours||2 hours||2 hours|
Except for the HMT-1, batteries aren’t removable in any of the other device versions. Buyers therefore need to consider the duration that a user will need access to a powered device. This is where HoloLens pricing can quickly stack up: you would have to purchase multiples of the HoloLens 2 to match the battery life of one RealWear HMT.
Even comparing only the intrinsically safe versions, and conservatively assuming only 1.5 HoloLens devices would need to be purchased for every 1 RealWear device to account for battery life discrepancies, the RealWear HMT-1Z1 still comes out as the more affordable option.
Also consider that you could bulk charge batteries for the HMT-1, meaning the same HMT-1 can be used across multiple shifts, with only batteries being swapped out as necessary.
Industrial companies are increasingly interested in the value of voice-controlled mixed reality devices to enable new avenues for operational effectiveness and cost saving. However, no one wants to be responsible for a white elephant – and for many mixed reality is uncharted terrain.
Considering the factors mentioned above combined with the overarching consideration of worker safety, we’d say RealWear currently provides the device that can support the widest range of industrial use cases, including a simple way to make form completion hands-free (we’ve written about what to consider when doing so).
Edit: a previous version of this post incorrectly discussed battery removability. The battery of the Realwear HMT-1 is indeed removable, as explained above.
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