How these key design improvements created the perfect rugged, connected aR device

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Why break the best when you can refine? Designing the RealWear Navigator 500

We ve clarified, refined, and balanced to create a total assisted-reality experience

A few years ago, we launched RealWear HMT-1 for the frontline industrial worker. While other Augmented Reality devices were failing to impress industrial customers due to their ruggedness requirements, the HMT-1 saw rapid success as shown here and here and here. The reason was simple the device, by design, was built with the user and their environment in mind, particularly when operated in potentially hazardous environments where protective equipment and gear is required. It was function and form.

The well-thought design and futuristic approach even before the pandemic hit us made the RealWear HMT-1 a truly industrial wearable.

"So, how do you make something that was already a breakthrough product even better?".

That's the precise question we had in mind while designing the next generation industrial strength assisted reality wearable device.

Based on what we learned from thousands of workers and recognizing that hy brid work was the new reality, it was clear we needed to build something ready to withstand heavy all-shift use in even more high value use cases. The all-new RealWear Navigator 500 has been refined with hundreds of meaningful yet subtle design tweaks, and they add up to a total assisted-reality experience.


Of course, the first requirement of designing any wearable product was about making it more useable which starts with full worker s shift comfort--an aspect that workers already appreciated about the HMT-1, but wanted even more battery time and comfort. So, our goal was to make it feel even lighter, as though you don t even have it on. We wanted to take it a notch higher by not just by cutting down the size and weight but by making the fit and ergonomics even more optimal meaning extremely compatible with PPE and all the varieties of people s head types, use cases, and more. And, of course, we wanted to achieve all of this without zero compromise to on the ruggedness and performance.

We also wanted to add modularity.

However, modularity usually means adding weight and bulk. Instead, By miniaturizing all the electronics (no small feat in a smaller device), we redeveloped the overall construction to allow the product to be lightweight and more comfortable on the head.

We all know that every head size is different. The effort that goes into each task is different Our design had to be sympathetic to all of these factors. A design that promises the utmost comfort yet doesn t shave an ounce of productivity and safety is a failed design. This led to a number of rapid iterations and prototyping, and doing some serious design thinking. We began looking at ways to get maximum ergonomic stability by perfectly balancing the weight on the head.

To achieve this level of precision, the miniaturized internal electronics were placed evenly around the users head. This might sound obvious, but you can t just move around electronics everything must be tested and perfected, because when you move one thing, something else might change. By keeping the electronics inside, skintight, with practically no air space wasted, and by using cutting-edge ruggedization techniques, we were able to maintain the durability and the sleek appeal of the device.

For example, we replaced the thick rubber rugged coating with a modern efficient hardened finish that is highly durable, allowing for a more refined and modern style. This allows it to maintain its drop-proof and waterproof IP-66 rating, while removing weight. From a design perspective our approach is to keep it looking sleek and high tech while giving a modern industrial worker the confidence that it s the definitive industrial tool the modern digital toolkit for Industry 4.0. In doing this (and accomplishing many more engineering and design feats like this), we ve managed to shave some the weight and width approximately one-third times yet maintain the rugged quality.

You will notice that we didn t fix what wasn t broken.

We maintained the horseshoe shape that allows ergonomic balance and promotes healthy posture even while using gear, be it hard hat or RealWear work band. But what we did is made it a hair wider, so that it fits more hardhats for more industries.

The result: a truly one size fits all device small, medium and large heads, with left or right eye dominance. Moreover, users can easily use behind-the-neck style earmuffs and goggles with certain hard hats. In fact, our industrial design team is constantly creating more mounting clips to allow the device to be compatible with more hard hats and headwear than ever.


One of the big changes we focused on is what the user sees the most the eyebox This is where the display lives. The eyebox holds the micro-display. The eyebox is connected to our now famous Z-shaped boom arm design. (Think lightning bolt from Thor) In the new design, we ve removed the gear-like dial connecting the eyebox to the boom arm. This allows to see a refined blend between the arm and the display.

The new slit on the boom arm increases the user s peripheral vision. We ve also minimized the size of the hinges to streamline even more while improving the strength.

There is a lot of refinement to ensure ease of use. For instance, we ve moved the power button on the other side of the device away from action buttons. So, the power button won t be accidently pressed (turns off the display) when using the action buttons. We ve, in fact, added two new action buttons for apps (you re welcome devs and UI pros).

We ve put in significant effort in the integration between the display, the ball joint and boom arm while maintaining the same ergonomic positioning. This makes the design more contiguous with the overall look of the product, more streamlined and less angular than the HMT-1. The speaker is now louder and clearer with a retuned back cavity that ensures best-in-class sound in noisy environments.

You will find countless such minute refinements (most likely unnoticeable, by design) that are going to make significant difference to how workers use the device.


One of the key aspects of this next generational device has been improving the battery capabilities. To ensure a full-shift, non-stop usage, we have completely reimagined the battery of RealWear Navigator 500. We have redesigned it to get maximum power density from the volume we were allowed. We understand that there s a delicate balance between a massive battery and comfort and form factor.

The first step was to change from a round 18650 cell to a lithium polymer state-of-the-art battery. LiPo packs in more power density and can be made to any shape and size. We ve also invented a new shuttle design just for RealWear Navigator 500. The all-new design makes it look completely integrated with the main chassis with rugged blade connectors. We ve reworked the release mechanism for actively swapping the battery on-the-go, even in dirty and grimy environments. When the battery connects to the housing, if there s any build-up of dust, the connector is designed to wipe the blade clean.

Now when you replace a drained battery with a new one, it takes less than 5 seconds. So, workers can be assured that their critical tasks won t be interrupted. The new updated hot swap function allows for video streaming, Wi-Fi, camera, or whatever you may need for minutes without the battery on the device.

That s not all The antennas are positioned to radiate outwards from your head. Our global team of engineers and designers have spent a lot of time developing the antenna propagation patterns.


We wanted the device to be a modern, flexible modular platform that allows changes to camera and battery, and other components too in the future. As aforementioned, modularity generally increases the weight of a product. However, miniaturization helped us add more components yet make it light in weight. Just like the battery, the camera is bumped up with a 48MP sensor and 5X zoom. With that, we ve also managed to cut down the camera size.

Integrating a camera into a device is known to create several problems for industrial settings such as manufacturing sites with high security. To tackle that, we ve added a red recording indicator light for other employees to know if they are being recorded.

I d go ahead and say that our camera enhancements are the first step towards how we envision a truly modular platform. Why camera? It is, particularly, the fastest moving component. We wanted it to be not only easily repairable but also removeable, upgradeable or swappable with an entirely different type of camera like thermal or night vision. Similarly, extending it to other components in the future.

With RealWear Navigator 500, the camera can be completely removed and replaced with the camera port cover to maintain IP66 and privacy compliance of a company. New innovative cameras with even better specs and increased abilities such as infrared vision can replace the current one during the long lifespan of the device. We wanted something to protect our customer. So, allowing components like a camera to be removable gives them end of life (EOL) protection.

For a compact form factor, the docking connector allows the two parts (camera and boom) to work as one. It is rugged and multi-purpose allowing data transfer, and power to the various modules and communicates back to Qualcomm chip. We ve also added more range to the camera for tough spots. This was done by completely reworking the internals of the hinge mechanism that helped provide lighter weight-equal friction rating across its range.

In an industrial setting, people aren t switching out the camera on a regular basis. So, the clips are intended to stay on during 99% of time, designed with a click-and-lock mechanism. Once closed, it has double locking mechanism - a hook latch, and a spring that pushes the undercut when it locks in place. Even if the camera is removed, the device still meets rugged specifications standard.

The team s design approach of modularity and miniaturization for the industrial sector is all about offering the frontline exactly what works best for them. We ve tried building that electronic ergonomic balance where every decision involves - how much it weighs, does the user require it, the final result and revisiting all aspects.

A generational leap isn t about dismantling and reimaging the whole product but understanding what needs to be retained and what needs to be let go.