Wearable technology is still in its clunky phase but with the full commercial launch of Google Glass due any time soon the big tech manufacturers will streamline. Look around and there are some promising alternative devices either already available or on the near horizon.
Google Glass is currently available to users in the UK and US, albeit still in its Explorer edition and at an expense that probably deters casual consumers (at more than £1,000 or $1,500), but what about the alternatives? WeLove Digital published a guide to Glass alternatives in Spring 2014, so we decided it was time for an update and took a look at the latest batch of wearables that could appeal to the discerning gadgeteer.
Big boys Sony announced their interest in VR displays with a headset called Project Morpheus, but the super corp is also looking at augmented reality (AR) with the SmartEyeglass. Developers were alerted to Sony’s intentions with the release of information on the software developers kit for apps. The Sony headset is transparent lens eyewear that connects with the user’s Android smartphone but shows the results in the lens. Disappointingly, from a journalist and film-maker’s point of view, the onboard camera will only be 3 mega-pixels for recording VGA resolution video. All of the computing power is housed in a small circular unit connected to the eyewear by a thin wire.
GlassUp is an Italian company developing smart eyewear that connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth. So far the apps in development look promising. Among them are programs to enhance tourism and sightseeing activities, language interpretation, sports performance data gathering and help to train the user in exercise activities, gameplay and various industrial apps to offer technical advice and education. GlassUp’s developers say the battery will last for one day (of typical usage presumably). Control comes via a touchpad and the device has a built in accelerometer, compass and ambient light sensor. Launch date is still to be confirmed but a lightweight 20 grams and attractive looks post it as a contender.
US firm Innovega is taking a different approach to conventional smart eyewear with iOptik, a contact lens that displays images directly to the eye. Whether that would prove distracting relies entirely on how apps and other information are displayed on the iOptik and there may be some resistance to placing smart contacts in the eyes if the user is not familiar with using them in everyday life. Innovega will actually license the technology to other manufacturers to develop actual consumer products, but the promise of full HD/3D performance from the display is an attractive one.
Initially you suspect that the Lumus Optical eyewear is for those with a strong laughter reflex. Just look at the first image that flashes up on Lumus’ website and tell me we’re not entering Michael J Fox ‘Back to the Future’ territory. Despite the slight absurdity of the fun-loving folk advertising this model the headset has decent specs (I couldn’t help it) – a mini in-built projector displays 720p images, it has a 5-megapixel camera and an embedded depth-of-field motion sensor – plus a patented technology called the light-guided optical element (LOE) to display a high-quality image onto a transparent lens. Lumus offers both commercial and professional products (for AR development) so take your pick.
Transparent AR-wear is the offering from Atheer Labs. The company is offering what it calls augmented interactive reality (AIR) using mobile gestures and contextual information targeted squarely at industries such as medicine, logistics and aerospace (from information on its website). Its big advantage over Glass is dual displays and onboard cameras along with a variety of 3D sensors to work with AR information in real time. Atheer’s AR-wear will also be able to overlay information on top of a video feed, making it potentially more attractive to broadcast journalists.
The EmoPulse nanoGlass is a device that you fit to existing or custom-made eyewear that connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet. Display resolution is only 320 x 240 pixels but the lithium battery promises two days of intensive use. EmoPulse promises that you will not look like “Terminator or an astronaut, and people will not avoid you”. Always good to know.
Pivothead’s eyewear is called ‘Smart‘ and by all accounts is a cool contender to Glass in the imagery department with its impressive specifications. Smart’s camera is positioned in the centre and it can take 8-megapixel images or record full HD 1080p video. In built 16Gb of internal memory is impressive and users can add up to 32Gb of memory via a MicroSD card slot. This device is also geared up for live streaming video and has an audio out jack and an onboard microphone for sound. Connect to other devices using Bluetooth or the Air Sync module that downloads and stores all content to PC, smartphone or tablet, with storage space for six hours of 1080p video. At a competitive $199 (£125 approx) Pivothead can expect to shift a lot of units.
Electronics firm Epson is the brains behind the Moverio BT-200 smart glasses, another entry in the high-end transparent eyewear market. Each lens has its own 960 x 540 pixel display providing an immersive 3D experience and the camera picks up markers from the augmented reality apps in development as well as capturing video. Moverio’s eyewear has head-motion tracking sensors, a gyroscope, magnetic compass sensors, accelerometer and a separate touch-sensitive control unit with Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, running Android 4.0 with 1Gb of RAM.
Internal memory of 8Gb can be enhanced using a MicroSD card up to 32 Gb and the Moverio boasts native support for MP4/H.264 video, AAC audio and Dolby Mobile surround sound for a potentially superior gameplay or playback experience. A feature called Moverio Mirror and Miracast suggests that you can stream video over WiFi. All in all a competitive package at less than half of what you would pay for Glass Explorer $699.99 (£440 approx).
Meta has come up with an immersive headset called the Meta Pro that looks to go way beyond the Glass experience, offering up 3D interactive holograms. Meta Pro’s viewable screen area available is 15 times larger than Google Glass and can display 720p images for each eye. Built in to the glasses are an RGB camera, stereoscopic 3D display and surround sound – this is kit for AR developers to work with and is sold as such – for $667 (£420 approx). Meta has a pioneer programme for developers to get their apps kickstarted including video tutorials, intensive workshops and marketing support. Up front the company mentions the device’s use in medical simulation software so it’s one for the serious AR community.
CastAR glasses are another in the projected augmented reality line of eyewear aiming to let users interact with 3D holographic objects. Two micro-projectors send a stereoscopic image to a retro-reflective surface that projects an image back to the user and with a couple of separate add-on clips the CastAR can be turned into a virtual reality (VR) device. A head-tracking camera picks up orientation and head position. Images are viewed in 720p resolution and the whole unit, which weighs in at less than 100 grams, can be attached to prescription glasses if needed. No WiFi or Bluetooth, the CastAR connects to a PC via HDMI or USB cable.
CastAR’s maker Technical Illusions is aiming for users of what it calls “social Projected Reality” and fully immersive VR, with next generation board and table top gaming in its sights. There are a host of positive reviews and tech news links on the company’s website and at a healthy $345 (less than £220) pre-order it’s an interesting proposition.
More of a research project in development than commercial wearable, KAIST University in South Korea has been working on a head mounted display (HMD as they call it) to rival Google, called (not very originally) ‘K-Glass‘. KAIST’s HMD is built around the much-talked about principles of augmented reality, using contextual information from what is around the user such as a building, for example a hotel, and then relaying real-time information such as room prices, vacancies and other important information. A video below shows how the university expects the device to operate. Professor Hoi-jun Yoo says K-Glass will duplicate the ability of the human brain in processing data rather than relying on scanning various location-based markers or barcodes. Its AR chip produces 1.22 tera-operations per second at peak performance.
“Our processor can work for long hours without sacrificing K-Glass’s high performance, an ideal mobile gadget or wearable computer, which users can wear for almost the whole day,” said Professor Yoo. “HMDs will become the next mobile device, eventually taking over smartphones. Their markets have been growing fast, and it’s really a matter of time before mobile users will eventually embrace an optical see-through HMD as part of their daily use. Through augmented reality, we will have richer, deeper, and more powerful reality in all aspects of our life from education, business, and entertainment to art and culture.”