What happened to the buzz of smart glasses? Are they still in? Will it be a product category that will succeed in the end? Let’s go back in time to review where it all started and where they stand now.
In 2012 Google announced their Google Glasses. At that time people were wondering, “What’s that? What can I do with them..?” It seems that after nearly 4 years, a few people might still be asking those questions. While Google Glass might appear as a sleek and discrete device, stacked with a very good marketing strategy by positioning them in fashion shows and teaming up with designers to make them look like a symbol of modernity, we feel that not all that glitters is gold. From a technical point of view, Glass comes with a tiny screen that sits in the upper right corner of your field of vision. The screen presents notifications, contents from the web and also runs native apps often referred to as Glassware. Once the leaders in tech each had their own Glass it seemed like the hype for the face-worn computer was gone. Google began to analyze why and how their new gadget faced serious problems by the people wearing it. One of the main concerns was privacy. Wearers were given the ability of recording other people without the others noticing – denominated as “Glassholes”. Another concern was the battery overheating. The placement of it on top of your ear was also annoying. Followed by the poor sales, Google decided to stop selling Google Glass in January, making them only available for enterprise customers.
Even so, there are other smart glasses that are not made by Google. Recon Instruments bet for smart glasses. Recon has been a player of the tech game for quite some time. Beginning before they won the WT | Innovation World Cup in 2012. The difference between Google and Recon is based on their customer segments. Recon Instruments produced 2 different glasses both for different types of athletes. The first is called Recon Snow2 specific for alpine sports. Then, Recon Jet is designed for runners and cyclists. Recon Jet displays live information about performance metrics – such as speed, distance, elevation and gain on a display. It attaches to a pair of sports glasses with polarized lenses. It comes with an integrated GPS, and can be connected with sport sensors such as a heart rate strap bands, power meters and cadence sensors via Ant+ or Bluetooth. When connected to an iPhone or Android device it also displays notifications for text messages, incoming calls and information from the web. The sports category might be a smarter move since often athletes wear glasses while doing sports. This hyptothesis was proven in June when Intel acquired Recon.
Vuzix is another company who said yes to smart glasses, but put a focus on professional users that can benefit from the head-mounted computers in warehouses, hospitals or construction sites. The M100, from Vuzix, has a display mounted above the eye, this delivers a viewing experience comparable to a 4-inch mobile device screen seen at a distance of 14 inches and is worn either as a headband or a pair of safety glasses. The display is reversible, meaning it can be attached above either the left or the right eye. It has a camera, a microphone for voice commands and can be controlled by head movements or control buttons. Besides the M100, Vuzix has 3 other wearable glasses, two of them offering an AR solution.
Lumus was another company that thought smart glasses were cool, and the bigger and thicker the better. Lumus permits users to watch TV, read an e-mail, or glance at stock tickers without anyone else knowing they are doing this (well, based on the thickness of the glasses you can figure out that something is going on there..). It provides users with information flow without obstructing their vision, so they can carry on their day uninterrupted.
We saw that smart glasses and sports is a good combination, same thought had 4iiii, a Canadian company that developed Sportiiii, a real-time heads ups display. Color LEDs and voice prompts guide you to personal targets preset with the 4iiii app for heart rate, speed, cadence and power.
Back again in 2012 WT found Buhel, an Italian company. Their innovation gained them the WT | Gadget of the Month for that year. The wireless hands-free glasses worked with the bone-conduction communication system. Meaning the glasses can turn vibrations into sound. Two Buhel Audio Vibration Speakers are integrated in the temples of the glasses. The technology is able to transmit a clear sound without the use of earphones. The glasses can be paired with any Bluetooth enabled mobile phone or MP3 player. The system was equipped with an integrated microphone allowing for noise– cancelling system, or hands free phone calls.
Epson, who will be for our 10th anniversary at the WT | Wearable Technologies Conference Munich January 26-27 entered the glass world with Moverio. Already with the second generation of its augmented reality glasses, The Moverio BT 200, successor of the BT 100, consists of a heads-up display and an Android based control unit that can store six hours of continuous operation energy. The control unit has a touchpad and an SD card slot for memory extension. With built-in WiFi, a camera and Bluetooth, the Moverio connects to the web, displays videos, games and augmented reality applications.
Evena Medical entered the medical headwear space with Eyes On. The glasses are aimed to help patients with extenuating circumstances. Evena’s Eyes-On Glasses provide hands-free, cart-free imaging for vascular access. The Evena Glasses system is appropriate for pre-hospital, hospital, outpatient surgery centers and wherever accurate fast IV access is required by incorporating Multispectral Light. They also provide apps based on ultrasound onto a head mounted see-through display. The wearer can see a live demo of Eyes-On at MEDICA where they have been exhibiting with us for a few years.
As we peer into the future, we are noticing that companies are still developing smart glasses. So far the target groups seem to be athletes and professionals working at warehouses or hospitals. One could think the regular consumer can start to forget about wearing smart glasses. Yet, there is hope. A company who thought about how consumers could use wearable glasses in other ways than the “Glassholes” is Jins Meme. They developed a pair of smart glasses that look like actual glasses; except they focused specially on how to pack in the full power of eye tracking software, fitness technology, and gaming. It is true that their glasses look more like the glasses that a “hipster” would wear, but that is what is trending in the consumer fashion market. All the sensors and tech are hidden in the back of the ear pieces and the nose pads, so it’s almost invisible to the eye. Since the sensors are positioned at the center of the body and the top of the spine, the Meme can better track your movements and even your posture. Those sensors also keep tabs on the calories you burn, and can assist the wearer with better posture or balance. Future apps could potentially use that data to correct runners’ strides, predict health problems, and improve users’ posture. On top of it all, the battery should last for 16 hours before charging via Micro USB. In addition to keeping tabs on your fitness, the Jins Meme also tracks the movement of your eyes, thanks to electrooculography (EOG) electrodes in the bridge of the glasses and the nose pads. These electrodes can detect blinks and every movement you make with your eyes in as many as eight directions. Jins is working with car safety companies to develop a system that alerts you when you start to nod off at the wheel.
With this being said, is this how the future for smart glasses look like? Can we expect more to come? Or it will crush and burn? We will have to wait to see, but with the augmented reality market opening more and more every month we don’t expect to see any down falls within the smart glasses market.