The resurrection of smart glasses

February 10, 2022

A quick walk back in time

In 2013, Google launched its smart glasses called “Google Glass” – An optical head-mounted display designed in the shape of a pair of glasses. Google initially advertised Glass in terms of experience augmentation. Rather than augment reality, however, Glass supplemented it. The device enabled users to check messages, view photos, and search the Internet. With an expensive price tag, limited features, and poor battery performance, coupled with privacy issues, the device didn’t catch mainstream attention with consumers as they preferred to stick to high-end smartphones. Glass went straight to the enterprise.

As Glass Enterprise Edition, It is being used in manufacturing settings today to help make jobs safer. These devices clip into glasses or safety goggles, allowing for faster job completion by providing critical information without distraction. Smart glasses were then laid to rest.

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The here and now

Cut to the present day, and smart glasses seem to have resurrected. One sees new smart glasses being announced regularly by the major tech players. “Smart glasses will replace smartphones in the near future” are how these manufacturers are pitching the smart glasses wave that is sweeping the market today.

Some are touting it as a gateway to the Metaverse. At the same time, some are just betting on the hands-free experience without carrying a smartphone anymore. Only time will tell how these devices and their applications evolve.

Out of the many use cases of smart glasses, we believe smart glasses will specifically give a boost to augmented reality. This article will describe smart glasses and their features and applications in augmented reality.

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Dreams don’t come true; goals do!

What goals does a smart glass need to accomplish to provide an authentic always-on AR experience? As described in an influential white paper from Qualcomm, true augmented reality glasses should be:

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Goals of smart glasses

 

The moiety of smart glasses

The device would need the hardware components described by the diagram below to achieve the above goals: 

 

Smart glasses as the mobile future of Augmented Reality (AR)

The simple definition of augmented reality is the overlaying of digital information onto the user’s existing real-world environment to augment or enhance the experience. This information can be in text, sounds, and visual effects. It differs from Virtual Reality (VR), which creates an artificial environment with almost no connection to the user’s natural environment. Users can experience VR by wearing specialized headsets, whereas the simplest device required to experience AR today is just a smartphone.

One of the hugely popular AR games of our time is Pokemon Go. It got people on their feet, walking and running around on a quest equipped with only their smartphones. Now replace those smartphones with glasses projecting the experience directly onto your eyes. Wouldn’t that be an enriching hands-free experience?

Similarly, let’s look at real-world AR use cases that smart glasses can enhance.

  1. Next-generation embodied digital assistants

Digital assistants with a visual body exhibiting social traits can make the entire experience more compelling and trustworthy. It would be a pleasant experience to have a proactive bot show up on our screen, alerting us of actions that need our immediate attention.

These types of visual bots can truly revolutionize the field of customer support services. Imagine your visit to a museum in the future being enriched with a virtual guide, as depicted below.

  1. Digital advertising

An AR-based advertisement can spring up by simply scanning a marker or a QR code embedded anywhere. The users don’t have to pull up their phones to experience the ad with smart glasses. 

Assume you are going through a magazine, and your gaze falls on a product that catches your attention. Embedded on that page is a marker that your glass recognizes, prompting you for your permission to display the product information in 3D. You can respond with a voice command and see the projected experience. Even for ads on streaming platforms, a subtle advertisement with a simple marker could present itself on the screen, leaving it up to you when you want to invoke the AR-based promotion. Since the “dwell time” AR experiences are usually more than traditional forms of advertising, these AR experiences can lead to higher engagement rates and, as a result, higher conversion rates.

  1. Retail domain

While shopping at a supermarket, you pick a product off the shelf. Your smart glass could relay pertinent information about it in 3D. If you are looking for a particular product you cannot find, ask your glass, and it could navigate you to the desired location in an engaging and gamified manner.

  1. Navigation

Have you felt lost at an airport looking for the departure gate or the restaurant serving your dietary preferences? As shown below, wouldn’t it be great to have a wayfinder experience in AR?

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  1.  Manufacturing

In manufacturing, glasses can help make quick decisions by projecting important information on the field. It can also enhance safety, helping to troubleshoot issues in real-time with video conferencing and streamline mundane tasks. 

  1. Fitness/ Health

Smartwatches today encourage us to stay fit by monitoring the calories we burn through exercise. What if we could have a digital personal trainer that augments the experience? Leveraging the power of AI, a smart glass could project a trainer in front of our eyes who could count our repetitions, demonstrate the correct posture and technique, and challenge and encourage us through the workout.

  1. Travel/ Tourism 

When at a tourist destination, scan your surroundings and get quick information about the hotels, restaurants, and places to visit in your immediate area.

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Has the era of smart glasses finally dawned upon us?

We are certainly seeing a solid comeback for smart glasses. However, while there is a lot of buzz around these devices, many are still in the prototype phase or lack features that make them ready for mainstream adoption.

Most of these glasses have matured in display technology, avoiding being labeled as a simple head-up display. Most manufacturers use a waveguide display, a thin piece of glass or plastic inside AR glasses that magically helps bend and combine light onto your eye. Advancements in waveguide technologies are helping to make more extensive displays with better visual quality.

Common challenges

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Conclusion

Naturally, any new technology that augments humanity will have to overcome challenges and scrutiny before it can truly become a way of life. The first smartphone was released in 1994 by IBM, called Simon. It took over a decade for smartphones to overcome many of their initial challenges and become truly popular. If history is any indication, then the smart glasses era could reach a maturity point. 

Today, wearables such as smartwatches are aping features of smartphones. So while we cannot answer the question around when and whether smart glasses will truly replace smartphones, they may, either alone or in combination with other wearables. We look forward to seeing how things play out in the future.

Further reading

  • List of current smart glasses in the market – 
  1. Vuzix blade upgraded
  2. Nreal
  3. Google Glass for enterprise edition 2
  4. Spectacles 3
  5. Echo Frames (2nd Gen)
  6. Bosch Smart
  7. Ray-Ban stories
  8. Lenovo think reality
  9. Microsoft hololens 2
  10. ThirdEye
  11. Raptor
  12. NuEyes
  13. Kopin SOLOS
  14. Dreamglass
  15. Vuzix shield
  • Glasses expected to be launched in 2022 –
  1. Xiaomi
  2. Oppo
  3. JIO glass
  4. Qualcomm XR2 AR
  5. Samsung
  6. TCLNXTWEARG
  • Some technical terms associated with smart glasses and their definition – 
  1. Visual inertial odometry
  2. Simultaneous localization and mapping (SLAM)
  3. Field of view (FOV)
  4. Waveguide display
  5. Degree of Freedom (DoF)
  6. Spatial computing and spatial audio

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