Mira is Bringing Low-Cost Augmented Reality to Workers' Hard Hats
Francesca Billington is a dot.LA editorial intern. She's previously reported for KCRW, the Santa Monica Daily Press and local publications in New Jersey. Before joining dot.LA, she was a communications fellow at an environmental science research center in Sri Lanka. She graduated from Princeton in 2019 with a degree in anthropology.
Mira, the augmented-reality startup based in Los Angeles, announced last week it raised $10 million in funding led by Sequoia, Happiness Ventures and Blue Bear Capital.
The company has been developing software that aims to streamline workflow and connect supervisors and workers remotely.
Co-founders Ben Taft, Matt Stern and Montana Reed began work on their prototype as students at USC's Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for Innovation. At the time, Taft worked at Daqri, an L.A. startup building an expensive AR-enabled hardhat helmet for industrial workers. Stern and Matt had previously helped build Sony's first Playstation VR.
Together, the trio pulled together the money to buy the only developer kit available at the time, the Microsoft Hololens. But the complicated interface and steep price tag meant most businesses couldn't deploy it at scale, Mira's 24-year-old CEO Taft told dot.LA. In 2017, he and his co-founders launched the Prism Pro, a smartphone-powered AR headset costing a fraction of the price of leading devices.
"The point of it was to open up a conversation of why AR is important," Taft said. "And invite different perspectives and people into the conversation who may not have had access or opportunity to participate in that discussion before, when those devices cost $10,000."
The prototype led them to Sequoia and other early investors. For $99, a consumer could pop their iPhone into the device and open the Mira software app to send images and data directly to colleagues across the world who can provide assistance on the spot.
After the launch, Mira heard from consumers using their product for a range of applications, from research to gaming‚ but they saw the strongest demand from a different type of consumer: the enterprise and industrial sectors.
An explosives packaging company in Australia sent Mira's team a letter about gluing the developer kit into a hardhat. The startup's next move was clear — they soon launched a second weather-proof version designed to last in rugged environments.
"They viewed this as an opportunity to provide a hands-free working paradigm to the front-line workforce, to make their work and lives safer, faster and more efficient," Taft said.
Unlike other AR headsets, Mira's is operated entirely by an iPhone. This means consumers don't need to buy a new computer to run the software. Plus, a lot of these big companies already have experience managing mobile devices at scale.
Using the Mira Flow tool, company supervisors can compose and send checklists to machine operators, a process typically done on paper. Once the employee puts on Mira's device, the workflow appears on the screen, guiding them through each step as the camera documents the procedure for their supervisor.
The company's second tool, Mira Connect, allows remote employees to video chat in with operators on the ground and guide them through processes.
"It's like a hands-free FaceTime call with an added see-what-I-see augmented reality element to make things so you can transfer expertise to anyone in the world remotely," Stern said," as if you were standing over their shoulder and guiding them."
And as COVID limits international travel, these industries have begun to rethink communication and problem solving, Taft said. Mira has seen usage spike on the Connect tool.
With the new funding, the company plans to ramp up hardware production and expand its engineering and sales teams in L.A.
"Our sales are growing incredibly quickly this year," Taft said. "We'll be hiring a lot more sales people to continue our momentum and continue to capitalize on gaining the market share that we have been rapidly obtaining over the past six months."
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Minutes into filling out my absentee ballot last week, I was momentarily distracted by my dog Seamus. A moment later, I realized in horror that I was filling in the wrong bubble — accidentally voting "no" on a ballot measure that I meant to vote "yes" on.
It was only a few ink marks, but it was noticeable enough. Trying to fix my mistake, I darkly and fully filled in the correct circle and then, as if testifying to an error on a check, put my initials next to the one I wanted.
Then I worried. As a reporter who has previously covered election security for years, I went on a mini-quest trying to understand how a small mistake can have larger repercussions.
As Los Angeles County's 5.6 million registered voters all receive ballots at home for the first time, I knew my experience could not be unique. But I wondered, would my vote count? Or would my entire ballot now be discarded?
My distractingly sweet dog, Seamus.
Photo by Tami Abdollah
The creator of the emotive robot called "Moxie" sees a new wave of machines that recognize human emotions and will change how business is done.
"We are seeing a future that's a lot better than the dystopian future of robots taking over the world," Paolo Pirjanian, founder and chief executive officer at Embodied, Inc. told dot.LA in a virtual strategy session on May 5.
Dr. Paolo Pirjanian, Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Embodied, Inc.<p>Dr. Paolo Pirjanian oversees technology, research and advanced development. Prior to joining iRobot, he served as chief executive officer of Evolution Robotics, Inc. for seven years. Before that, Pirjanian was the company's chief technology officer. Earlier in his career, he worked as a lecturer in the computer science department at the University of Southern California and as a researcher at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory where he received the Technical Leadership Award. Pirjanian is the former U.S. chairman of IEEE Robotics and received the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Early Career Award in 2004. He holds a Ph.D. in robotics from Aalborg University.</p>
Jason Schoettler, Partner at Calibrate Ventures
Jason Schoettler, Partner at Calibrate Ventures<p>Jason Schoettler is a partner at Calibrate Ventures, a venture capital firm he co-founded in 2017.</p><p>He leads investments for Calibrate Ventures across its areas of focus: advanced automation, B2B SaaS, and managed marketplaces, including its investments in Alpha, Built Robotics, Embodied, FarmWise, Pared and XStream Trucking. </p><p>Jason has a proven track-record of identifying disruptive businesses and facilitating their development while generating outsized returns. Before forming Calibrate, he served as a Managing Director for over a decade at Shea Ventures, where he was responsible for numerous investments with notable exits, including: Dollar Shave Club (acquired by Unilever), Evolution Robotics (acquired by iRobot), Osmo (acquired by Byju's), SI-BONE (SIBN), and VictorOps (acquired by Splunk). </p><p>Prior to Shea Ventures, Jason served in an operating role at Oak Grove Systems, an enterprise software spin-out from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Caltech, and as a management consultant at Ernst & Young. </p><p>Jason grew up in Central California and holds a BA from University of Notre Dame and MBA from Claremont Graduate University. </p>
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