DAQRI: Reflections on the Beginning

Gaia Dempsey
Dec 2, 2017 · 5 min read

After 7 phenomenal years serving the rocket ship that is DAQRI, the time has come for me to move on to new challenges. The experience of building an augmented reality company with some of the most amazing people I know has been an incredible gift.

As a co-founder in — let’s be honest — an inordinately male-dominated and deeply technical industry, I’m grateful to have felt so supported by the DAQRI team, our investors, and the broader AR community. There is no other role I can imagine being more fulfilling, or where I would’ve gotten to do everything that we did together — supporting and holding the vision that held so much heart and meaning for us, developing AR education products, launching and marketing the DAQRI Smart Helmet and DAQRI Smart Glasses, leading our international expansion, multiple M&A processes, strategic R&D operations, government relations, and contributing to public policy with both the European Commission and US Senate, all in the context of bleeding edge technology and a brand new industry. It’s impossible to quantify and catalog this journey. I just may write a book one day.

When Brian convinced me to help him build an augmented reality company 7 years ago, I didn’t know much about how AR worked, but I understood that it would change the world. I tried the early GPS-guided AR applications that highlighted constellations and the names of mountain peaks and was enthralled by the idea of being able to add digital information to the real world in a way that was both useful and beautiful. I knew that Brian was brilliant — a little quirky but insanely brilliant — and I knew that it would take a lot of work to see it through, but as our vision for bringing AR into the world developed, it was undeniable that it held both fascination and heart.

In simple terms, our initial plan was to build a platform that would enable anyone to make their own AR experiences. We wanted to empower people all over the world, without requiring any special knowledge, to be able to create and access this amazing new medium. The problem was that in 2010, almost no one knew what AR was, and they certainly didn’t want to create anything with it. When people asked me what I did and I told them “I’m doing an Augmented Reality startup,” they would look at me like, “Augmented what?!” Of course, we learned that AR applies to literally everything and soon narrowed our focus to professional use cases in order to avoid spreading ourselves too thin (I’m simplifying a bit here). Now, DAQRI’s Professional Grade AR platform is well-known in large scale enterprises and innovation teams around the world.

Amidst the struggle in the early years, I always loved thinking up new applications for the medium. We explored ideas for the fields of sustainability, city planning (I studied urban design and architecture), education, art, science, and productivity. We knew that AR interacted with the brain differently than any other form of media, and imagined the mind-boggling effects of interactive AR sculptures, playing with parallax effects and 3D optical illusions that couldn’t be achieved within the physics of the real world. In the future, we knew that there would be AR characters everywhere in the world and detailed, naturalistic scene overlays that would intelligently adapt to your surroundings as you moved through reality. We made a lot of “firsts” happen in the industry — like the time we prototyped an AR brain-computer interface that enabled users to turn lights on with their minds (and won an ISMAR award for innovation that year).

We also spent a lot of time thinking about where AR could make a real positive impact on humanity. I became convinced that the highest use of AR would be to enable people to visualize the long-term impacts of their decisions in the present (a gift that the human mind is not naturally endowed with). I had been deeply immersed in the world of sustainability and cleantech before starting DAQRI, and I thought constantly about how difficult it is to shape near-term human behavior on the basis of long-term effects that are impossible to see, touch, and feel in the present.

What if voters were able to see the impacts of their decisions in AR representations in the world around them before casting their ballots? What if visualizations in AR could enable people to manage the amount of water they consumed each day in their homes? Most ambitious of all, we wanted learning and creativity to be interspersed in our everyday lives so naturally that it felt like breathing.

We also worried about the serious ethical issues that we would have to face as an industry. How could AR as a medium avoid the information silo effect that has (possibly irreversibly) warped the very fabric of the internet? How would we protect user privacy? How could interoperability between systems be achieved? I addressed these issues head-on in many of my early talks, but we still have a long way to go.

Just in the last year, I’ve loved creating DAQRI’s first military research project and leading a team in applying computational cognitive models to the design of AR interfaces that improve decision-making in high-stakes environments. I believe the insights from the work our team has done will apply far and wide: as an industry, we still have much to learn about how AR interfaces work with the brain, and how they can support (or hinder) cognitive human performance. I was also beyond honored to create DAQRI’s first project with a First Nation, and am excited to continue this work in the future. My passion for understanding and furthering AR HMI’s and applying them in scalable ways that empower people to be their best is unabated.

I will miss many things about DAQRI, but the people most of all. Though the extremely late nights and work through the weekends that were the norm in our early days (who am I kidding, minimum the first three years) have long since become a rare occurrence for most as it’s grown from an early-stage startup to where it is today, the passion in the company for bringing AR into the world to make a massive positive impact is still as strong as ever.

As for me, I’m on to the next adventure, under wraps for now but more to come soon. Thank you for everything, DAQRI team. I wish you every success in the future. You have my heart always.

Gaia Dempsey

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7th Future. Prev. @DAQRI