Google Glass wasn't the first eyewear computer, but it achieved several technological breakthroughs, especially in its sleek, lightweight construction. The much maligned device has spawned a growing industry of head-mounted smart eyegear. Our slide show of 11 Android and Linux eyewear devices includes simple Bluetooth accessories for notifications, full-fledged industrial headgear, sports gear for bikers and skiiers, and even a motorcycle helmet (click Gallery link below).
Like Glass, eight of the 10 other devices listed in our slide show are based on Android, while two -- Laforge's ICIS and Tobii Glasses 2 -- use embedded Linux. Almost all the devices are open for pre-orders at the very least, and most are shipping, although sometimes only in beta form. Several are OEM-focused devices. Glass only recently became publicly available for $1,500, and sales are still controlled by Google, with restrictions in terms of age (18+) and a requirement that you live in the US or UK.
Only a few of these devices, such as the ICIS and GlassUp, appear to be competing directly with Google Glass as a general purpose smartphone accessory or replacement. Yet Glass is also being promoted for some of the industrial and field-service applications where most of these devices are targeted.
As with smartwatches, smart eyewear can be generally split into two groups: those, which like Google Glass, are primarily Bluetooth accessories, and those that are more fully autonomous.
Most of the devices in this slide show fall into the latter category, in large part because many of these are enterprise focused devices where fashion – and therefore size -- is less of a concern. All the devices in the slide show offer Bluetooth, and most, like Glass, provide WiFi. A number of them also incorporate GPS, as well as sensors, which can be used for positioning, or in the case of the sportier devices, health and performance feedback.
Several of the bulkier, more autonomous, enterprise-focused devices replace the Google Glass like monocular displays positioned on the side of the field of view (FOV) with 3D stereoscopic displays that use transparent overlays for augmented reality applications. Two products -- Epson's Moverio BT-200 and the R-7 Glasses from Osterhout Design Group (ODG) -- use Qualcomm's Vuforia SDK for Digital Eyewear (VOD) technology for accurately mapping augmented displays to the visual field. These devices use multiple depth sensing cameras for accurately matching overlays to objects.
Android and Linux lead the way again
As with most cutting-edge gadgets these days, there's not much going on in the smart eyewear market that doesn't involve Android or Linux. There are, however, a few low-end smart eyeglasses that don't appear to run a formal OS such as the WeON Glasses, which do little more than flash a colored light when your phone gets a text.
Apple has built eyewear prototypes, but nothing seems to be eminent. Instead, the company is focusing on its Apple Watch.
If smartwatches do take off, it could slow down the consumer smart eyewear market. Public backlash to Google Glass over privacy issues, and the resulting bans on "glassholes" by many communities, bars, restaurants, and public institutions, pose another obstacle. Removing the camera or microphone doesn't necessarily solve the problem, as it may be difficult to detect what's going on in your particular device.
Then there's the fashion issue. Even the relatively svelte Google Glass is seen by many as embarrassingly geeky. Yet the latest lightweight devices, such as the ICIS, look almost like regular glasses. With increasing miniaturization -- and the hiring of fashion designers -- future devices should appear much less obtrusive.
For the near future, privacy and fashion concerns are likely to keep the eyewear revolution a mostly enterprise-focused affair. Yet, smart eyewear should find a willing audience among those who need to keep their hands free for sports, or for industrial, field service, or even some retail applications.
The idea of smart eyewear has a certain inevitability to it. Isn't this how we always imagined we'd look in the future, except with white track suits and flying cars?
Daqri Smart Helmet -- Daqri
GlassUp -- GlassUp
Google Glass -- Google
ICIS -- Laforge Optical
Moverio BT-200 -- Epson
R-7 Glasses -- Osterhout Design Group (ODG)
Recon Snow 2 -- Recon Instruments
Recon Jet -- Recon Instruments
Skully AR1 -- Skully
Tobii Glasses 2 -- Tobii
Vuzix M100 Smart Glasses -- Vuzix