Remember Google Glass? Back in 2013, Google’s augmented reality eyewear was being touted as the future of wearables. Despite its high price tag and dorky design, TIME Magazine hailed the smart glasses as one of the best inventions of the year. But then came the safety, piracy and privacy backlash, killing off Google Glass before it could gain a foothold.
But smart glasses are making a comeback. They’ve learned from Google’s mistakes, simplifying functionality, improving design and lowering cost. Most importantly, they now have a purpose.
Smart glasses are getting sporty
The first of those is sport. We’ve already covered the Recon Jet on IQ, a fitness wearable designed for cyclists, runners, and triathletes. The Oakley Radar Pace does things a little differently. For a start, it doesn’t have a camera. Instead, it tracks activity using a suite of sensors and relays real-time feedback via Intel Real Speech.
More than just a Fitbit in Prism Lens shades, the Radar Pace is smart enough to create dynamic training programmes and provide active coaching as you exercise. Thanks to a built-in microphone, you can even ask questions, like “what’s my pace?” and “how’s my power?”, and the Radar Pace will tell you.
Smart glasses are also finding a role in work environments. In the enterprise space, AR is already helping in areas such as engineering, logistics, field servicing and tele-medicine. Vuzix has been quietly selling its M100 smart glasses since 2013, which feature an onboard camera and monocular display powered by an Android computer.
Augmented reality entertainment
Vuzix improved its head-mounted display with the release of the M300 model, which adds Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, integrated head tracking and GPS. The company is also branching out into entertainment with two new products — iWear Video Headphones and iWear for Drones. Both aim to give you an immersive experience that’s akin to watching a 125-inch cinema screen from 10 feet away.
Augmented reality entertainment offers a third route for smart glasses to find success. At one end of the scale, Microsoft has its HoloLens system, while Intel has demonstrated the VR/AR Project Alloy headset. At the other, Snap Inc’s stylish Spectacles are wear-anywhere smart shades that can capture a 10-second video clip that you can upload to Snapchat. A light on the glasses shows when the camera is active, addressing potential privacy concerns.
The fourth area that smart glasses could address is health. Earlier this year, for example, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella showed a video of a blind Microsoft engineer wearing a pair of Pivothead smart sunglasses that used audio to describe the world around him.
“While wearing the glasses,” says Pivothead, “the user swipes the touch panel on the eyewear to take a photo. The eyewear will analyze and translate the image to speech and describe what the person is doing, how old they are, and what emotion they’re expressing.”
It’s a fantastic idea and one that demonstrates the unique value of smart glasses. The Radar Pace, Vuzix M300 and Snapchat Spectacles are just the start. Expect to see more like them, defined by cheaper prices and clearly focused functionality. Google Glass was an important first step — a valuable lesson in what people want and, more importantly, what they’ll tolerate.