As the virtual reality industry begins to take hold, new innovations in fashionable smart glasses are appearing within view.
In parallel with the immersive VR headsets that are now flooding the market, several startups are focusing their attention on the augmented end of the spectrum. Among those gaining traction is the eyewear company Laforge Optical who plans to release their alpha version by the end of 2016.
Although these glasses are still considered early prototypes, Laforge has been working on them since 2013 – slowly evolving their designs over time. With each iteration, the eyewear grew more and more luxurious culminating into a series of highly customizable wearable accessories.
Laforge’s initial momentum boost occurred when they published an Indiegogo campaign in 2014 with a funding goal of $80,000. Surprisingly, shortly after announcing the crowd funding project, they cancelled the campaign when a seed investor put $1.1 million into them.
From there, Laforge remained relatively quiet while occasionally posting updates to their social media pages. But their vision for the future remained pretty much the same. Laforge is marketing the glasses as a way for people to share moments in time in a way that compliment each individual’s personality.
Originally called Icis and later renamed Shima, the glasses reportedly can frame the person’s field of view with a user interface depicting various ways to snap photos, post online, and play music. Additional bits of useful information can potentially be streamed in through subtle augmentation – minimally described as a heads-up-display – as well.
In the picture below, the right hand side of the display pinpoints the sharing abilities that Laforge was looking at during their crowdfunding stage. Through a combination of camera work and external API’s, photos and videos can be published on personalized social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat.
Technically speaking though, integrating with Snapchat would need direct API requests, which Snapchat has yet to officially release to external developers. With that in mind, both companies have striking similarities related to how they are approaching the augmented reality space.
On the one side, Laforge is putting most of their attention on the fashionable hardware designs of their glasses, while Snapchat is building out the software side of an AR platform. However, both Laforge and Snapchat are making hardware plays. For instance in late 2014, Snapchat acquired a company called Vergence Labs who were creating their own pair of smartglasses.
The critical difference between the glasses that intrigued Snapchat and the Shima eyewear by Laforge is the focus on the visuals and personalization. Vergence Labs’ glasses were one-size fits all and did not include a way to show information. Because the Shima glasses combined projection and prism techniques to display data, this gives them an edge towards producing wearable AR glasses that the general public could wear on a daily basis; despite Vergence Lab’s vision of producing augmented reality features over time.
Google’s Glass project was pretty much the closer hardware “competitor” during the slight augmented reality wave of 2014. Although Laforge has yet to release a working prototype to the public yet, their sleek and stylish designs show that the AR devices of the future must be fashionable to reach the mainstream. Laforge has shown resilience in the wearable tech space while products like Google Glass have seemingly vanished. This is because Larforge’s Shima glasses take a more forward thinking and stylish approach.
Granted, Laforge has a long road ahead of them if they want to become a leader in the Augmented Reality industry. The beauty of the glasses themselves will not be enough if the technology and social interactivity is not melded together intuitively. Plus, they need to get the devices out to the public – which is why the announcement of their shipping plans is so important.
The Alpha prototype is projected to arrive late 2016, with the Beta Bold coming sometime in 2017. The current pre-order price is $590 plus shipping and handling, which includes both the Alpha and Beta Bold editions.
The singular display in the initial Alpha prototype will be on the right side, while the Beta Bold will have two displays – one for each eye. Prescription lenses can be added for no extra cost too.
Both versions can connect to a external devices like a smartphone through Bluetooth. They also have USB connections for data transfer and an aux jack for music. Selecting items on the display is through buttons and a touchpad found on the frames. The battery is mentioned to be 18 hours. Additional Sensors inside include gyroscopes and accelerometers to detect motion as well.
Storage size for the Alpha iteration is 1GB with the upgraded Beta Bold clocking it at 8BGs. The primary difference between the two versions though is that the camera will only be included in the Beta Bold edition.
The technology is pinpoint enough to attract potential buyers, especially when thinking about what one can do with a pair of these glasses. At the very least, Shima glasses provide additional information overlayed to activities like running, listening to music, and driving in an unobtrusive fashion. Pretty much anything that a smartwatch can do, so can Laforge’s Shima eyewear.
The display doesn’t hover in front of the view the entire time either. Visuals appear and disappear when most useful, preventing unnecessary distractions while helping to maintain battery life.
When the camera is added, then the devices then become a fantastic way to share photos and videos up to 30 seconds in length. This will make it great to capture moments in time from a unique, individual perspective. Laforge hopes to integrate voice control features later down the road as well. It won’t replace the phone (yet), but it will enhance the experience.
With the pre-order and customization process ready, now Laforge will have to actually ship them out. Unfortunately, Laforge has at least once delayed the shipping before; which was supposed to be in April 2016, according to a newsletter update. This was primarily due to the manufacturing of the lenses as mentioned in an email sent out in May.
Despite the manufacturing hiccups, Laforge plans to get the Alpha out by the end of the year. In the meantime, they released a video on Facebook that garnered over 6.6 million views in a short period of time. They have the public interested in this practical, pinpoint approach to Augmented Reality. Now all they have to do is ship.