For the second straight CES, we spent some time hanging out with Osterhout Design Group (ODG), makers of the most badass smartglasses this side of Hololens. ODG's glasses are still aimed primarily at enterprise customers and developers (and priced accordingly), but if or when they eventually become full-on consumer products, there's a pretty good chance you're going to want a pair.
This year ODG showed us two pairs of its glasses: the new R-7 model, which has a 30-degree field of view and is available to order now for an enterprise-priced US$2,750, along with an unreleased prototype that's very similar to the R-7 but has a 1080p display with a 50-degree field of view.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,500 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Hiding internals that are equivalent to a highish-end Android tablet (including 64 GB storage, 3 GB RAM and a Snapdragon 805 processor in the R-7) means that the glasses' form naturally has some noticeable bulk. While you could say they're approaching subtle, they still aren't to the point where you can pass them off as "regular" glasses:
But, unlike Google Glass, the overall form factor of ODG's glasses is familiar and pedestrian; there are no odd asymmetrical forms with hanging prisms that announce "I'm a tech product" to anyone in sight. They look a bit like a rugged pair of sports sunglasses, only bulkier.
If ODG can get future generations even subtler, shedding some of that bulk without sacrificing power, then they could capture the holy grail of headworn wearable tech: advanced AR on the inside, incognito on the outside.
While you're wearing them, you see a gorgeous, high-res display centered in the lower half of your field of view. Capable of supporting 3D content with stereoscopic imagery, the glasses hit a nice balance of transparency and immersion. You can easily see through (and around) the display to catch what's going on around you, but it's still opaque enough to fully absorb the displayed 720p content.
The glasses run a custom version of Android KitKat, dubbed ReticleOS, so sideloading Android apps and movie files alone could give you plenty of options for traditional content (apparently 21st Century Fox sees potential in this area as well, as it recently acquired a minority stake to become ODG's principle outside investor). And it's easy to control, using either a trackpad on the glasses themselves, or a paired handheld controller:
Where the glasses could get really interesting is when developers take full advantage of their AR capabilities. We checked out a Hololens-like demo that utilized the stereoscopic display and head-tracking to bring a building design to life in front of our eyes. Unlike Hololens demos, the augmented object was tethered to an AR card (there's no built-in environmental scanning like HoloLens has).
That's likely a big reason for making the wider field of view model ODG showed us. The R-7 is great for stationary content, and it could work for AR experiences too, but wider FOVs will always create a more effective illusion when placing AR content in the real world. The WFOV prototype has a display that spans a good portion of the lenses; the AR demo was immersive and impressive.
In addition to supporting its current enterprise customers, much of ODG's current focus is on encouraging developers to build the apps that will bring the (R-7 and beyond) glasses to life. There's only so much we can see at convention demos (and we suspect non-disclosure client agreements prevent ODG from showcasing today's very best stuff), but the hardware is impressive enough to get our imaginations firing on all cylinders. With time, a more subtle form factor and the right software support, ODG could make a very interesting consumer wearable.
ODG's R-7 smartglasses are available to order now from the product page below, with current orders having an expected Q2 2016 ship date.
Product page: ODGView gallery - 4 images