If there’s one thing the smart-glasses sector needs to put behind itself, it’s the term ‘Glasshole’. About five years back, when Google launched their Augmented Reality product Glass, it brought the prospect of smartphone-esque controls, without actually having to take the phone out of the pocket. Agreed, we had smart watches much before techie eye-wear made headlines, but Google Glass as a concept was new, novel, and pretty neat.
This was till users began using it. And lo and behold, the word ‘Glasshole’ was coined to describe people who behaved inappropriately while using smart eye-wear.
But this isn’t 2013 anymore, and wearable tech has come a long way in terms of sensor tech and reducing chip sizes to fit into more inconspicuous form factors. With AR driven use cases, smart glasses will become cool again in 2018. And things are just getting started.
To begin with, it’s not just the tech in eye-wear that’s received a massive upgrade, it’s also voice powered assistants in general.
Google and Apple are both showing immense potential in their assistant projects, about which I’ve already spoken of in a separate article. But here’s the thing: the assistants need not be limited merely to smartphones, they can be relocated to other devices such as smart earphones, and – yep, you guessed it – smart glasses.
In terms of hardware, displays are becoming slimmer and more adept at processing and rendering content in a non-distracting manner to the user. Camera sensors can be placed in smaller frames, and speakers can be built around bone-conducting science. Bye bye cyclops goggles.
And finally, in terms of form factor? It’s hard for OEMs to hit the sweet spot between functionality and style, but Snap’s Spectacles came pretty damn close. Taking Snap’s biggest USP of recording tiny videos, into a funky pair of glasses, was an instant hit with the masses. Unfortunately, the popularity didn’t last long, and we’re hoping that Snap has another hardware-based trick up its sleeve for 2018.
PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR IN 2018
(‘Look out for’: ‘See’ what I did there? Ok I’ll stop.)
Vuzix showcased their Blade lineup in CES 2018, and these smart glasses certainly seem promising. The Blade is currently in early dev-kit stage, but the company states that Alexa support will be coming to the Android powered glasses. And besides, the form factor looks much akin to a conventional pair of glasses. But with a hefty price tag of $1,000 when it hits shelves later this summer, I’m a little unsure about the target audience for the company.
TechCrunch has a nice roundup on all the OEMs that are expected to make their mark in the near future, and among the companies, Epson, Mad Gaze, Garmin and Daqri are worth looking out for. Common target audiences include cyclists (who might rely on smart glasses to help them navigate through streets or interact with their phones), AR enthusiasts, and developers.
So while all the other smart eyewear OEMs are battling it out while trying to add as much functionality in a pair of glasses, Intel is coming up with some really cool stuff of its own.
Case in point? The Vaunt. Prima facie, it seems like a regular pair of glasses. Which is kind of what all OEMs are aiming for. There’s no visible camera lens, no buttons, no LCD display, and no speaker. The tech engine is tucked neatly away near the frame of the glasses, so the stems can be flexible – as is the case with regular glasses.
A low-powered laser shines a monochrome image onto a holographic reflector near the right lens, which in turn reflects it directly into the user’s retina. The project’s chief says that it isn’t harmful since it’s a class one laser, and the advantage would be that the image created would always be in focus.
Other features include Bluetooth connectivity, an app processor, an accelerometer, compass and other sensors, and future scope for a microphone to integrate with voice assistants. The most interesting thing? The notifications are visible only in your peripheral vision, not when you move your eyeball to stare at them directly. This brings about an added layer of non-intrusiveness to the overall equation of what a pair of smart glasses should be like.
The Verge has a very insightful review of the Vaunt, you’d definitely vaunt (oh God why) to read it.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE LOOK LIKE?
As far as smart eyewear is concerned, the future potential looks good. AR headsets such as the HoloLens come with obvious disadvantages of bulky hardware, and that’s where other OEMs will want to capitalise.
Use cases are already becoming more evident, as is the recent case with the Chinese police, who have resorted to using smart glasses to identify potential suspects in a crowd. The device taps into China’s state database to filter out potential criminals using facial recognition.
The onus will be on bringing smart glasses to a more conventional form factor – that which is already in vogue, and already familiar with the majority of the masses. Software integration and advanced use cases will have to go hand in hand, to make sure no one’s a Glasshole in 2018.