If you work on construction sites, then you already know that safety at work is job one. For as long as anyone can remember, the basic hard hat design has been pretty much a standard fixture on-site. In fact, that design really hasn't changed much since the first fibreglass models came into use in the 1940s.

Since then, newer materials have been developed to make hard hats stronger and easier to manufacture. Various designers have added ventilation , faceguards and various other options, but we're really still taking about the same head protector here. At least, we were until now. On-site hard hats are about to get a serious upgrade with trials of the new DAQRI Smart Helmet range. It's something entirely new to the construction industry, and believe us when we say that this isn't your grandfather's skull bucket.

Front exploded view of the DAQRI Smart Helmet with its docking/charging station. (Image by DAQRI.)

DAQRI are describing the new helmet as a "wearable Augmented Reality technology" - like an advanced version of the Google Glass headsets you might have seen in the news a couple of years back. The difference is that, while all we've really seen of Google Glass so far is an interesting tech demo, DAQRI is going straight for practicality. The Smart Helmet is a fully functioning protective hard hat, and a lot more besides. For one thing, its geared directly around the needs of a modern construction site. The Augmented Reality display can show you a wide range of essential information, directly into your field of vision. We're talking about

  • Thermal vision, to identify dangerous temperatures and help monitor equipment.
  • Real-time guidance and on-demand information for complicated jobs
  • The ability to look "through another worker's eyes" remotely, as if you were there yourself.
  • 3D visualisations of buildings under construction, showing you the finished project while you're still working on it.

It all sounds (and, judging from the photos we've seen, looks) a bit like Robocop - but this isn't just science-fiction. In fact, Smart Helmet trials are already launching in the UK. Skanska is the first contractor here to jump on-board DAQRI's early adopter programme. They seem to be taking it very seriously, too.

DAQRI Augmented Reality Helmet. Construction goes Hi-Tech. RIFT Tax Refunds.

Here's what Thomas Faulkner, their UK Executive Vice President, says:

“This trial demonstrates our commitment to exploring on site new digital technology, collaborating with technical partners to give us the potential to transform the way we work. If, as an industry, we are to deliver on the targets set in the Construction 2025 strategy, we need to be innovative in our thinking. It will help us to be more efficient, delivering projects more quickly while reducing costs and carbon.

“It’s very exciting to be working with DAQRI during the course of this year to see how we can benefit from their diverse perspective, to challenge the industry’s traditional working practices.”

The UK government's looking to shake up the entire construction supply chain over the next few years. That means new technologies and processes are only going to grow in importance.

Head protection has come a long way since ship builders first coated their caps in cured pitch in the 1900s. The construction world is changing, and the future is a whole new world. Advances like Smart Helmets, survey drones and computer modelling are the first hints of what that future could look like.

If you're planning on starting a new life in the offworld colonies or getting your ass to Mars once construction starts on the new space ports remember to claim your tax refund for travel, because that's going to be one hell of a trip!