Are we finally getting closer to affordable, good-looking AR wearables?
Let’s face it, humans can be, at times, vain and fickle creatures, so the fact that most HMDs tend to make their users look dorky as heck doesn’t really help when it comes to mass market adoption. Magic Leap makes you look like a Minion, and even though I personally think the HoloLens looks much cooler (hey, what can I say, I’m a geek), I will admit that you begin to feel the considerable weight of the device after prolonged use.
There’s no doubt a set of functional AR glasses that resemble regular eyewear would garner the attention of the average consumer, precisely what Vuzix is hoping for with their own propreitary AR headset showcased earlier this month at this years Consumer Electronics Expo in Las Vegas.
The company is marketing its Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses to both the enterprise and consumer markets, providing differentiated software solutions for each. On the consumer side, the Vuzix Blade Companion app, which is available for download from the App Store or Google Play, connects the device to both Android or iOS devices and offers content such as AR enhanced golf training by Oncore Golf, and support for both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The app is also being upgraded with new functionality including the enablement of photo and video sharing between the Blade and smart phone devices.
“Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses are truly wearable smart glasses that can not only be unboxed and paired to a phone in a matter of minutes, but also deliver immediate utility for prosumers and consumers,” said Paul Travers, Vuzix President and Chief Executive Officer. “It provides a natural view of the real world while concurrently allowing AR content to be simply viewed and interactively managed with transparent optics designed to overlay visual information such as GPS mapping directions, restaurant menus, weather information, event happenings, stock information, video conferencing, sports updates, health metrics, patient data, streaming video and more.”
The Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses platform includes an Android based operating system on the device, a cloud-based services platform that is being developed specifically for the Blade, and a growing ecosystem of apps and software development firms from around the world that they are working with, including Yelp and AccuWeather. They are also working with Amazon to finish the broader integration of Alexa and expect to complete certification soon. Alexa BETA is currently available for developers.
“Wearers of the Vuzix Blade AR glasses can see a comprehensive weather forecast as a visual overlay that pops into their field of vision,” says Steve Smith, President of AccuWeather Digital Media. “All of this is done without having to pull a smart phone out of your bag, while juggling luggage or reservation documents, making it easy to stay informed on-the-go.”
The Vuzix Blade ecosystem of consumer-oriented applications is expected to grow significantly throughout 2019 – ranging from utilities to entertainment with applications like karaoke, language translation, sheet music scrolling, and more. Also included on the Blade Smart Glasses are four games designed exclusively for the platform including AR Dino Hunter, AR-Golf, AR-Racers, and an idle AR Space-Miner game.
Enterprise customers, on the other hand, subscribe to the Blade Commercial Edge Software Suite, which now includes the LogistiVIEW Connected Worker Platform – an enterprise productivity toolset for frontline workers – and embedded biometric capabilities by PaaS Smart Glass targeted for field-based workers in industries such as aviation, healthcare, security, manufacturing and logistics. It enables first responders, for example, to quickly identify causalities or patients and obtain vital information such as medical histories of allergies and blood type, reducing wait times when arriving in hospital.
Vuzix had previously won the award for innovation at CES in 2005 and 2018 (the company was founded in 1997) and repeated the feat at this year’s event, being recognizing for its “outstanding design and engineering”.
Vuzix’ wide-field-of-view waveguide optics is certainly impressive. The entire display engine is approximately the size of a pencil eraser and will allow future AR smart glasses to have a virtually indistinguishable look and feel from normal eyeglasses.
“This binocular system features HD displays with a large full-color 60-degree field of view (FOV) stereo image, the largest commercially demonstrated FOV system from Vuzix to date. An extremely small display module featuring MicroLED display technology developed with Plessey Semiconductor coupled with a Vuzix waveguide and coupling optics,” Travers explains.
Coming in at just under $1000 USD, glasses aren’t exactly cheap, but compared to similar Mixed Reality devices such as the HoloLens and Magic Leap One they are a comparatively budget solution. Also, the price point is not that far from a top-of-the-range smartphone, and as more content and functionality becomes available on such devices, it is easy to see how the investment could start to become justifiable. As a consumer interested in the concept of hands-free AR, it is certainly among the most viable (and least silly-looking) that I’ve come across.
The consumer version Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses are expected to start shipping in February 2019.