In the wake of CES 2014, the concept of wearable computers that deliver information and digital content – quite literally – right in front of your eyes, is coming further to the forefront of consumers’ minds. Thus far, the majority of buzz being generated about smart-glasses has revolved around Google and their Project Glass. This has a lot to do with their clout as a brand and the intriguing way the project is being promoted and rolled out. People are thinking of all the possibilities and problems Google Glass will solve as if smart-glasses are something new. However, digging a little deeper will show that there are a number of players in the market already, some having been in existence since the 90s. So why now? Is this industry ready to explode? Are we there yet? We have taken a look at some of the options – both market-ready and prototype – in an attempt to see where these innovations will take us, if it can change the way we digest content, and the role it has to play in merging the digital and the physical worlds.
The first commercially available pass-through AR headset – the Wrap 920AR – beat Google Glass to market but seems to be more geared to practical uses in B2B applications rather than everyday use by the masses. With binocular vision as opposed to the monocular Glass, the Wrap 920AR is touting industrial applications such as a warehousing apps, medical information delivery, military uses, and facial recognition for security purposes are all geared towards providing information in real time, without the use of users’ hands. The company have been in existence since the late 90s and this is one of several products they offer.
The M100s are Vuzix’s monocular smart glasses (like Google Glass) and can be mounted to a headset, on safety glasses and have a floating screen display.
This Android-based wearable computer are small and lightweight. They are said to be well suited for a variety of industrial, medical, retail and prosumer applications. Pre-installed apps can be used to record and playback still pictures and video, track timed events, manage your calendar, link to your phone and more. The M100 is also compatible with thousands of existing Android apps and easy access to developer resource SDK enables the creation of custom apps to suit virtually any need.
It has an HD camera for still picture and video capture. They are enabled for the user to store their content in expandable onboard memory or stream it live. Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity makes it easy to pair with another Android device or connect wirelessly with Wi-Fi to the Internet. An integrated head tracking and GPS system can not only provide apps with your location but even the direction and angle of your current view.
Product: Google Glass
These monocular smart glasses with a mounted 640×360 display on the right side and a 5 megapixel front-facing camera allows for video and stills to be captured.
The basic idea is that you can see texts, email, queue up your music, check the weather, and more, all right in front of you. You can also respond or call up things with voice-activated commands, and the augmented-reality interface can highlight things you see in real life and tell you more about them. In addition, you can share live video of what you are seeing with someone else.
It has several sensors including a gyroscope, accelerometers, a compass(magnetometer), ambient light sensors and proximity sensors, multiple radios, a micro USB charger port, several microphones, and a tiny bone-conducting speaker.
They are slicker in look and feel to some of the bulkier options in the market currently. The touchpad on the side of the glasses allow users to swipe through applications being displayed which respond to voice commands.
The hardware is designed to work seamlessly in conjunction with many existing Google products such as Google Now, Google+, Gmail and Google Maps.
The Mirror API allows developers to start developing apps for Google Glass which include restrictions on advertisements or charge fees within apps (which may change in the future)
On November 19, 2013, Google unveiled its Glass Development Kit, showcasing a translation app World Lens, a cooking app AllTheCooks, and an exercise appp Strava among others as successful examples.
The monocular headset is, like Google’s Glass, an Android-powered wearable computer, but whereas Glass floats a small window for notifications and such in the upper corner of your eye, the DK-40 actually overlays a full VGA digital image over the right eye instead, so their optics are their strong suit.
They have the abilitiy to support prescription lenses, and have a 25 degree field of view as opposed to Google Glass’ 15 degrees, offer full AR support in the developer kit.
They are not available to the general public but have opened up development to a select number of partner organizations. Developers building apps for the Android-powered headset can overlay graphics directly on top of the real-world view, rather than simply sliding in separate notifications as Glass does
Product: Moverio BT 200
The floating semi-transparent display projects images onto magnified angled sections in the middle of a clear lens. They are linked to a handheld Android touchpad console, allowing for immersive gaming applications similar to the Oculus Rift but with a view of your surrounding environment. While there are a few practical applications in development, the majority of the applications for this headset have been games and immersive experiences as opposed to the everyday uses of Glass. They come equipped with multiple sensors; accelerometer, gyroscope, and magnetometer that can enhance and affect gameplay as well as deliver information. They are compatible with 3D applications and have a front facing camera to capture, and stream video and come with a 32micro SD card that is mounted in the handheld console.
The GlassUp reports incoming e-mails, text messages, tweets, Facebook updates, and other messages. The message is shown for only a few instants, on the side of the field of view, in an unobtrusive manner.
They work via a bluetooth connection and a set of apps (Android, iOS, hopefully Windows), depending on the mobile platform and the message you want to receive, so you must have your mobile with you. They are read only but do have a touchad on the side similar to Glass.
These glasses are still in a prototype phase having been revealed at CES 2014. Innovega have said that while Glass will be first generation in smart glasses, they are aiming to be in market for the second generation. They have a small panel that is visible on the right side, similar to Glass. But unlike Glass, they make use of high-tech contact lenses to see the display in more detail. The images are projected onto the contact lens by the display which is mounted on the frame of the glasses The contact lenses refocus the light to let users see images and text that would normally be too close to the eye to discern clearly.
Embedded in the contact lenses are micro-components that enable the user to focus on near-eye images. Light projected by the display (glasses) passes through the center of the pupil and then works with the eye’s regular optics to focus the display on the retina, while light from the real-life environment reaches the retina via an outer filter. This creates two separate images on the retina, which are then superimposed to create one integrated image, or augmented reality.
Completely immersive glasses, these are as close to Iron Man’s JARVIS HUD as you can currently get. The built-in hand tracking algorithms allow the user to interact with the content they see in front of them. The 9-axis head tracking system allows the user to look around at different digital content placed throughout their real-world environment, and the software can remember where each piece of information is placed in the real world when the user turns looks away. They are currently available for order and development versions are available.