Right now the sexiness of the Google Glass brand is about as sexy as one looks while wearing the awkward gear. But smaller startups are still exploring the potential of augmented reality smartglasses, and we got a look at one of them at CES 2015.
Osterhout Design Group (ODG) has a pair of augmented reality glasses that's designed for military and industrial uses (the company says they're already in use, but can't tell who is using them). But now the San Francisco-based startup is launching a consumer version that takes the same fundamental design and makes a few tweaks for the general public.
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Unlike Google Glass, which hovers a small display above and to the right of one's field of view, the 720p display on ODG's glasses is actually two displays (one for each eye), and covers a much higher portion of your sight lines (it's towards the bottom of your field of view). And since it projects a slightly different image to each eye, it can employ stereoscopic 3D.
The company describes its products as falling somewhere between Google Glass and the Oculus Rift: more immersive than Glass, but without Oculus' "teleporting to another place" level of immersiveness.
It's also much more powerful than Glass: internally, this sucker is basically a high-end mobile device that you strap to your face. It has a Snapdragon 805 processor moving things under the hood, and runs Android KitKat (later to be updated to Lollipop). It employs Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and has a forward-facing camera with auto-focus.
The picture looks great – very crisp and clear. By design, the military/industrial model is more opaque, while the consumer model is more transparent. The glasses squeezed very snugly when being put on over my nose, but felt reasonably comfortable once on.
The company says battery life could be around a day, depending on what you use it for. If you're streaming video continuously, then that falls down to a few hours. You can easily plug in a cable, though, to charge it (via portable battery) while on the go – supposedly upping that estimate to around two days.
For navigation, you can connect a Bluetooth device (the company showcased both a keyboard and a small handheld controller that wraps around one of your fingers) or use the optical sensor on top of its right arm. The glasses also have removable lenses, which snap on magnetically. The company says pop-on prescription lenses will be an option.
It's easy to imagine ways this could be used for industrial or military use (repair guidance via live video chat was a great example the company gave us), but this would clearly be more niche as a consumer product. The company suggested watching videos or "anything you could do on a phone or tablet," (remember it can run Android apps) but that doesn't sound entirely convincing. How many people are going to strap this Robocop-esque sucker on for something they could easily do on a phone or tablet?
The more likely scenario is that the glasses will be the domain of AR enthusiasts, and perhaps for outdoor activities like hiking, biking or winter sports.
Of course you can't always know a device's potential until developers have at it. ODG is creating its own custom skin for the consumer version (including a turn-by-turn navigation app) as well as its own app store, and is releasing an SDK for developers to do their thing. More than with Google Glass, the hardware has the potential for a sci-fi like experience: the real-time analysis of one's environment that books and movies have been pointing to for decades.
ODG's consumer product (which may or may not have changes from the version we handled at CES) is set to launch later this year. The company hasn't announced specific pricing, but has said it should fall under US$1,000.
Product page: ODGView gallery - 9 images