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Immersive Tech for Mobile Workers | Ben Taft from Mira

For twenty percent of the workforce, the idea of being at work typically conjures an image of one sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen. Yet a more significant percentage of the population is on their feet – whether that be out in the field or on a factory floor.

Our guest on this edition of UpTech Report, Ben Taft, co-founder, and CEO of Mira, is trying to bring innovative technology traditionally adopted by the white-collar workforce to the rest of the world.

Ben explains why it’s historically been so difficult to develop and deploy wearable technology for workers, and how he and his team found a scalable solution powered by the world’s most universal tool – the smartphone.

Through the Mira Prism Pro, industrial workers can enhance their operations with augmented reality while sharing their field of vision with remote managers for guidance.

More information: https://www.mirareality.com/


As a child of immigrants who fled the Soviet Union – with only $17 to their name – Ben Taft knows the value of hard work and the importance of the American Dream. This early exposure, coupled with his belief in the same American Dream that drew his parents to the country, is the foundational bedrock upon which Ben’s entrepreneurial spirit would be built.

Before applying to be in the inaugural class of Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine Academy at USC, he had already successfully exited his first first-up. Once accepted into the academy, his entrepreneurial spirit was nurtured and further developed.

It was at this time that he got his first glimpse of augmented reality and recognized its potential, leading to the foundation of Mira, an augmented reality hardware and software company focused on bringing innovative AR solutions to the B2B workforce.

Mira has evolved from its original 3D printed, fishbowl-based prototype to a fully functional Prism Headset and integrated software solution utilized by customers around the world today. Likewise, his commitment to delivering AR en masse has only expanded over time.

DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!

Ben Taft 0:00
They were able to basically put this device on the heads of those operators, and run through all the site inspections, all of the troubleshooting all of the commissioning all of the training, they were able to conduct that in such an effective way live remotely with groups of people on either end in a way that wouldn’t be possible any other technology.

Alexander Ferguson 0:22
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our applied tech series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap. Learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. Today, I’m joined by my guest, Ben Taft, who’s based in LA, California. He’s the co founder and CEO of Mira. Welcome back. Good to have you on there.

Ben Taft 0:40
Thanks for having me.

Alexander Ferguson 0:40
Now, Mira, from what I understand your sights handsfree AR hardware and software solution meant to transform, as you say, the productivity and safety of global distributed workforces. And I think on your website as a solutions design for the deskless Industrial workforce, very interesting tagline. But help me understand what was the problem that you guys saw, and set out to solve?

Ben Taft 1:04
Sure thing. So when we say deskless workforce, right, you and I are very used to working behind our desk, we’re sitting on a desk right now we’re looking at a screen, we have to zoom up. And that’s really what we’re sort of used to. But funny enough 80% of the global workforce does not work behind a desk like you and I are doing right now. They’re typically out in the field, they’re on a factory floor, they’re in these environments that really power the backbone of the global economy that we sometimes fail to consider. And as a result, oftentimes technology that’s really important, really transformative, sometimes gets to those environments much later than it really should, right. And augmented reality is one of those potential pieces of technology, where you’re offering a hands free computing solutions, that means I’m wearing glasses right now, right? Imagine if these glasses are are smart, they can show me content that I need to see what I need to see it, there’s a camera on board that understands what I’m looking at, it can record what I’m doing and can show it to somebody else remotely. All these capabilities that are designed a hands free way, because again, you’re not at a desk, you’re holding tools, you’re working on things, you’re up on a telephone pole, that’s one of those pieces of technology that we find, can really really benefit those environments. But we want to close the gap and how quickly that technology gets delivered to and becomes available for those workers in those places who frankly, are risking their lives sometimes in doing the work that we do every day.

Alexander Ferguson 2:22
So it’s like technology, what we’re used to those who are at a desk, we’ve got it right here, we’ve got our screens everywhere. I’ve got my VR headset right back there. But those who are in the, as you say, desilets, where they’re actually out there, your the delay of the technology actually being in their hands, is we’re not there yet. But you’re trying to change that to help you understand like, the adoption, though, because I mean, that’s a big shift for any business leader who’s saying,

Unknown Speaker 2:47
okay, tech, I

Ben Taft 2:48
love it. But

Alexander Ferguson 2:48
really, I mean, how much how much is it gonna cost? I mean, yeah, training wise, how are you overcoming, overcoming that? That adoption curve?

Ben Taft 3:00
I love those questions. And those questions were the impetus for starting near in the first place. Those questions historically, especially with the technology that we’re focused on, hence, free computing, augmented reality, and so forth. The answer those questions, there’s no good answer. It’s costly. It’s, it’s complex. It doesn’t work out a box, there’s a lot of intense training required. Sometimes those devices aren’t designed to or certified to work in those types of environments where it’s raining or dusty. And for a plethora of even more reasons, that technology remains in a state of science fiction. Right. And, you know, I think the the conversation today is how are we sort of moving this technology out of science fiction and into real world applications. And before we went started the company, we were concerned that this technology was too much in the science fiction world. And it was very simple for a company to maybe pick up a single device and try it out and run may be a proof of concept. But for all of those complexities, information complexities, it was nearly impossible to bring that technology to scale, and deliver it to enough people to create a value to make an impact. And for it to be simple enough and understandable enough for end users to actually want to go ahead and adopt it. And because that was the case, that’s why we started here, because we want to say this technology is important. And we understand how to make it simple, how to make it affordable, how to make it accessible, all the adjectives that really serve as almost antonyms to how you would describe the current technology solutions out there. Right.

Alexander Ferguson 4:29
So if I tried to give it from my perspective, how you tried to solve that is alright, instead of building a whole nother, or having to bring in another hardware solution, let’s use an actual smartphone device. So that’s like the brains it’s probably already there. And then you’re just providing a hat that uses reflection so that you see you see it, but then a camera on board. I’m probably doing a poor job of I

Ben Taft 4:54
was that was one of the best descriptions of the technology I’ve heard in a long time. So So kudos,

Alexander Ferguson 4:59
but it’s the fact that that smartphones are already there? So it’s like, that’s right. It’s interesting approach, you’re you’re you’re kind of just leveling it up to an AR approach.

Ben Taft 5:07
That’s exactly right. So think I mean, think about what it means for the tech for the phones to be distributed, it means that this company, and all these companies have already gone through the overhead of understanding how to procure and purchase these phones, how to secure them from a cybersecurity perspective, and get them issued to all these places and able to manage those devices in case you know, somebody walks off with the phone, or if they need to shut down on the phone, they figured out that capability, they figured out how to actually distribute applications and software to those phones and update them on a repeated basis. They know that the devices are incredibly secure, because Apple makes them right. It’s hard to hack an Apple device, it just is. And and users know how to pick up an iPhone, you know, swipe the screen up or a slide to unlock your all those types of things. Those are all the things that have been already sort of handled and implemented over the past decade. And we’re coming into your point and saying, well, let’s just use that install base of devices of cybersecurity, of IT infrastructure of learned behavior. And let’s, to your point, leverage up just into this augmented reality experience. Right. So that’s a huge shortcut that we’ve taken.

Alexander Ferguson 6:16
Now, let’s, let’s maybe look at the potential downsides. I’m gonna be I’m gonna be a tough critic here, like, all right, putting a phone on your head, it’s not kind of heavy. I mean,

Ben Taft 6:27
that’s a great question. Design is something we pay a lot of attention to ergonomics, the whole nine yards, things that are sometimes overlooked in designing these devices, we come from a strong design background, as founders, the product we were in had a very strong emphasis on design and Human Centered Design, and so on and so forth. Two things, number one is we’ve selected a very specific set of iPhones that are lightweight, yet powerful, and affordable, that enable our form factor to still work. If we took the latest, you know, I have this very heavy iPhone, you know, maximum phone, screen, etc. That might be a little heavy as a strain on the user’s neck. But we support the iPhone seven, eight and SP which are very lightweight, with the headset is actually counterbalance with a battery on the back. So it serves to actually be in a comfortable experience. And that’s the first part of your question. The second part is really the fact that we, we don’t actually encourage users to wear this all day. And that’s contrary to what you may assume, we’ll get to a world in which the form factor looks like this. And I can wear this all day. And it’s smart enough to know that these glasses are smart enough and have the fidelity of in the content to create a rich experience for you all day long. But we’re just not there yet on so many levels. So we say hey, this is a tool in your tool, shed, this is a tour, if you need to use it, you go and you pick it up, and you put it on, and you run through an inspection with somebody remotely for 30 minutes, right, and then you put it back afterward, and then someone else can pick it up and use it right. That’s the behavior that we sort of encourage our users to kind of dip their toe into augmented reality with. And so between the sort of 30 minute use cases, the 60 minute use cases, and the way we’ve selected the iPhone skew and sort of counterweighted it, those two things combined really enable a comfortable and ergonomic experience for all of our users.

Alexander Ferguson 8:17
Appreciate the breakdown and the fact that you’re not suggesting, hey, you’re gonna wear this eight hours a day, because that could be someone thinking like, really, you want my workforce to have to have this on all the time, right, eventually, but not not at where we’re right. Now, let’s walk into those use cases again, okay, where does the value of augmented reality really shine and comparative to other solutions that exist and people are using right now?

Ben Taft 8:42
Sure. So I’ll give you an example. We have a customer that’s headquartered in Australia. And right at the beginning of COVID, they actually had just finished a transaction purchasing a manufacturing facility in Peru. And typically, what they’d have to do is they would need to send teams of people from Australia to Peru, and they need to do all sorts of things, they need to inspect the site and sort of make sure it’s, it’s it’s safe to use that the machinery is all working that, you know, everything is sort of compliant, right. And then you run through these inspections, they need to document everything, and they need to sort of then go and replace machinery or upgrade machinery where they need to. And they also then need to once they get through all the infrastructure, then they need to actually go and basically train these operators who are already hired by the previous company, they acquired the site from to say, Hey, this is how you’re gonna run these procedures. These are the new standards. This is how you do X, Y, and Z thing. And as you can imagine, that became quite literally impossible when COVID hit, right? And so what do you do in lieu of sending people on site when you can try to use a FaceTime call, you can try to you know, take some pictures with your iPhone, maybe send some emails, but the sort of the, the throughput and the bandwidth of that knowledge transfer through those methods is so slim. It’s like, it’s like breathing through a straw. Especially when your environment like this is dangerous. You have To remain hands free and heads up, you have to have gloves on, you have to be using tools your hands on with your work. It’s not as easy as, Hey, I’ll just, you know, FaceTime you and help me with my cable box. It’s not quite like that, right. So the technology in this instance, they were able to actually ship devices to the site where the board was closed, they couldn’t even set the content they wanted to. And in a matter of just a day or so they were able to basically put this device on the heads of those operators, and run through all the site inspections, all of the troubleshooting all of the commissioning all of the training, they were able to conduct that in such an effective way live remotely with groups of people on either end in a way that wouldn’t be possible any other technology, right?

Alexander Ferguson 10:41
We’re going into an era because of the pandemic that digitization or or even telepresence concepts of are being used in every possible case, but I’m curious your take on the future you feel bullish strong, that remote support remote connections not going to go away even after the pandemic, God willing, that is now everything’s going the right way that people are going to just go back to I’ll just come out and see you one person?

Ben Taft 11:09
That’s a great question. And I think the answer is there will be a balance, right? Right now we’re a bit over indexed on doing things remotely, right, I’ve been working out of my home office for a year and I to looking forward to a day where I walk back into our office, and I’m able to greet our teammates in person. And that’s something that I think a lot of us are craving. And I think a lot of will have a light elastic effect, where we’ve been sort of stretched to be sort of remote and not that social and will kind of snap and be kind of social, again, maybe overly social for a bit. But that being said, there’s still going to be a lot of permanent behavior changes, right? Our company, for example, which is very much, you know, white collar workforce type company, we’re working behind desks, we will definitely enable a much higher degree of work from home of, you know, calling in via zoom, you know, sometimes you come in the office, sometimes you don’t, maybe we go across different cities, these are all the types of behaviors that are here to stay, they won’t be 100% remote all the time. And that sort of sentiment that you and I probably know and understand as we’re sitting behind zoom at our desks, that’s going to be understood, and it’s going to be permanent behavior change in these environments, I’m referring to as well, where you know, sometimes you’re just an hour away by then it’s just easier to come on site and fix something. And that’s totally fine. But when you’re talking about days and weeks of international travel and coordination, where the downtime that’s occurring in the interim is costing you $10,000, for every waking hour, 24 hours a day until this problem gets fixed, you don’t have the luxury of waiting. Right. And a lot of those instances, you know, are very prevalent. Right? So in terms of, you know, will there be some correction? And will something’s you know, stay remote? Will some things go back to being in person? Absolutely. But will will there still be a key set of use cases and circumstances that must remain remote? Absolutely, as well. And that’s where technology really fits in?

Alexander Ferguson 13:04
The other use cases for augmented reality and your solution Mira? Aside from remote Connect, so someone can can see and and and provide tips go here, click that whatever press that. What are the use cases? Are you using an A is being used? And do you see it being used?

Ben Taft 13:21
Certainly. So right now we’re very much focused on like kind of lab collaboration piece in enabling sort of, again, that throughput of knowledge from point A to point B in the most effective way possible. Now that that pipe is sort of open right information can kind of flow back and forth between the site headquarters are the site in the original equipment manufacturer who makes the machines in the first place, we set up that pipe through the slide connectivity feature. There’s different types of information that we’re already enabling to flow through that pipe as well. So for example, if you’re headquartered in Australia, I’ll go back that example, you can actually create a new set of work instructions and publish them to every site you have all around the world as customers 400 of these sites. And so if you have a new sort of compliance driven procedure that needs to be adopted rapidly overnight, well, all of a sudden, you can offer it in our workflow engine. And then with the click of a button distributed around the world to every node in your network, and have the devices serve as workflow guidance and data capture tools. So these operators can put the device on get step by step guidance without somebody on the other end, but get actual sort of augmented guidance as I’m going through these procedures. And the camera will capture all this rich data along the way, it knows how long you’re taking on every step, it can take photos of every step. And they can report all of that data back into the platform. So you as a supervisor, or an executive who cares dearly about the safety of all, you know, five to 10,000 employees around the world, you now have oversight to have the confidence right in the certainty that things are getting done correctly. And you can enforce that in a way that you couldn’t before by using more of this kind of workflow piece to go back and forth between the sides. Right. That’s, that’s a second use case that we’re really deeply focused on implementing with some of our more mature customers right now.

Alexander Ferguson 15:00
Speaking just for a moment, to the more technical side, for those that enjoy the tech technology, the tech stack itself, have you guys built from this the AR capability from using existing open source options? have you built it up from scratch, like, just tell me a bit more of how you built this and develop this?

Ben Taft 15:18
Yeah, so the AARP specifically, we developed a program called unity. It’s a game engine, that has been sort of that’s really opened up the door for AR and VR developers to create experiences in a really good way. So we use the Unity engine to design our enhanced experience. And right now that enhanced experience is what’s called three degrees of freedom, meaning, you can sort of move your head around and things will stay fixed around you, if you walk forward, those panels will move with you at a fixed distance. So you kind of have this orb of information around you. And that’s really what we’ve designed, it’s not yet at the level where you can sort of look at the machine, and it will sort of automatically overlay precise holograms over each component. That’s sort of a futuristic facing thing, some technology is cut out to do that, we’re focused on more that head three, hands up and sort of heads up and hands free computing routers, so we design the application in unity. And then on a web platform is all built on on top of node node.js. So we have our own stack across the board, where we just switch to a scalable kind of calling infrastructure that powers our live collaboration piece, known as talkbox. We’re excited to partner with them as our infrastructure is now required to support global calls all the time. It’s an exciting place to be in. But it’s a little bit about about our tech stack.

Alexander Ferguson 16:38
That’s really helpful. And knowing that it’s like using the existing technology everywhere it is moving forward, because unity as is developing so many new cool options and AR capabilities in gaming and interfaces, but now being able to use in the workforce. And I appreciate your approach of it’s three, three, often only three degrees of operations, but you have the ability to expand in the future the way you’ve built your your system that okay, just upgrade the the phone, or potentially some of the software then then they can still they can have that next level up later. Right.

Unknown Speaker 17:12
Is that the oppression?

Ben Taft 17:13
Yeah, as the phones upgrade, and specifically, you nailed it by mentioning the software specifically, right? We’ve created a hardware Foundation, right? A camera, a pipeline, right? Where now that we have a camera on the side of your head, and we have a computer, you know, the sponsor, buy the phone rather, inside of the headset, that sets us up for a really rich future of capabilities, where now that we have the real estate and the computing capability to have a camera inside your head. So what can we do? We can add infrared sensors, right? We can add a flashlight, that’s voice automated, right? There’s so many things we can do with the hardware. And then in terms of the software, that camera from a software perspective will get more and more intelligent over time. And what I mean by that is I was describing the use case to you just now where you have the headset guiding you through a particular inspection, for example, right? Well, if that camera can actually watch you do that inspection, say 100 times, it could be intelligent enough to actually start to understand what that procedure looks like. And for everything that was marked correct or incorrect, it starts to learn. And then maybe the 101st time you run through that procedure, it goes, Hey, you just turn the valve to the left. But the other 100, run throughs, you turn to the right, and it can fly that automatically, right. And that’s the sort of software intelligence that we’ve set ourselves up for, in the way we’ve architected our whole hardware software system. And we’ll be adding that intelligence to the system over time to create even safer and more intelligent layer of protection for these frontline, super frontline workers.

Alexander Ferguson 18:50
So being able to have that machine vision, understanding to be able to look at what’s going on, you’re building that as the future because you have the data put input, but having the existing solution is focused on right now is that more live collaboration, being able to see the the digital elements on top of what they need to be doing?

Ben Taft 19:07
Exactly,

Alexander Ferguson 19:08
I dig it. So for for the kind of the business leaders out there, and they’re looking at all these options. If you had to share a word of wisdom on on the future of desilets workers who are out and in the space, they need to be hands free and using technology. You know, what kind of word of wisdom would you be sharing?

Ben Taft 19:27
I would tell them that there is certainly the future is now in some ways, right? I think a lot of the promise and a lot of the when we think about this technology, we start to think about like Iron Man and Star Wars, holograms and this future which I’m more excited about than anybody, right. It’s it’s a ways away. And I think that if we adjust the expectations of what’s possible today, you can sort of very quickly see that there are a lot of really strong intangible benefits in the near term. That technology like Rs can really help enable quickly. And it’s a great first step into this world. And we’ll take it a step after step and put one foot after the other. And, you know, in five years time in 10 years time we’ll get to that IMF feature, I promise I’m dedicated to making that future happen. But in the meantime, I would, I would just encourage people to realize there is a more entry level form of this technology, a more low hanging fruit use case that’s available right now, that is so transformative and so impactful on your bottom line and your operations today. And that’s a really good first step. And I would encourage people to really think about taking that first step, and setting yourself up for that future. When it’s ready.

Alexander Ferguson 20:41
I love the more pragmatic approach that technology is great, and we’re gonna get to the Ironman, but there are solutions now that you can implement that it’s not too futuristic that your workforce will be like what is going on or it would kill your bottom bottom line? Well, thank you so much for for this insight. For those that want to learn more, you should be able to go to mirareality.com. Yes, and be able to schedule a demo get to get some initial insights. And for those that want to hear more about the journey of building this this firm, stick around for part two of our discussion, we’ll get into the founders journey. Thank you so much, Ben for sharing your insight. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at UpTech report.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.

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