As many tech startups scramble to cut expenses and find new revenue streams amid the COVID-19 outbreak, RealWear is dealing with just the opposite.

The Vancouver, Wash.-based startup saw a 35% increase in business last month as it handles a flood of requests for its head-mounted, voice-controlled devices that recently integrated Microsoft Teams.

The pandemic has forced manufacturing companies to figure out how to keep their factories running while adhering to social distancing mandates.

RealWear’s headset gives field workers a way to collaborate with remote colleagues via hands-free remote video calling, photo capture, document navigation, and more, all powered by voice technology and a display that sits just below line of sight. It’s similar to a Google Glass concept, but one that is tailored for industrial use cases (Google sells a competing enterprise product).

For example, a wind turbine manufacturer is using RealWear headsets so its on-the-ground employees can get real-time advice from vendors located elsewhere.

There are also customers reconfiguring their production lines to help make ventilators and PPE equipment for healthcare workers. They are using RealWear headsets to quickly train employees on manufacturing competency.

The COVID-19 outbreak is accelerating the implementation of technology-powered services such as telehealth and online grocery. RealWear is experiencing something similar with the use of its headsets. Barriers such as pricing or security “seem to be less urgent than getting it deployed in this kind of crisis situation,” said RealWear President Sanjay Jhawar.

“A lot of the small objections are being moved over in pursuit of the larger picture of keeping a factory running,” he said.

RealWear works with more than 50 tech partners to help power the software that runs on its hardware, but none larger than Microsoft, which just launched its Teams collaboration app on the HMT-1 devices. The tech giant last month highlighted its partnership with RealWear when touting increased usage of Teams due to the pandemic as remote work surges.

RealWear recently mounted thermal cameras from FLIR directly on the HMT-1 headset. (RealWear Photo)

Since the Teams announcement on March 19, “we’ve seen a tremendous explosion of interest from customers,” Jhawar said. Part of the appeal is that many companies already use Office 365 and Teams for other tasks, so they can easily integrate the headset into existing workflows.

The pandemic has also created a new business vertical for RealWear: healthcare.

RealWear China, the company’s joint venture, partnered with Chinese tech giant Tencent in February to develop a hands-free solution in China’s hospitals. The headset allows doctors to conduct video conferencing with remote colleagues, and can speed up the body temperature screening process.

Since then, RealWear has figured out a way to mount thermal cameras from FLIR directly on the HMT-1 headset. The idea is to give users a hands-free method to quickly assess a group of people for high temperatures and potential fevers.

Jhawar said workers will eventually come back to factories — “robots don’t fix themselves,” he noted. But he believes the pandemic will force manufacturers to speed up adoption of digital and cloud-related technologies such as the RealWear headsets.

“The ability of companies to access knowledge from remote places and bring it into their daily operations — that will get faster, and it will stick,” said Jhawar, who helped start RealWear in 2016 after a 6-year stint at Sonim Technologies.

RealWear has more than 20,000 devices currently in use. One-third of its sales are now COVID-19 related, the company said.

Last year, RealWear raised an $80 million Series B debt and equity round, bringing its total funding to $100 million. Investors include Teradyne, Qualcomm, Bose, Kopin Corporation, JP Morgan Chase, Columbia Ventures, Mentors Fund, Realmax Technology, and Plug and Play Tech Center. RealWear is ranked No. 86 on the GeekWire 200, our index of top Pacific Northwest startups.

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