Arguably the thing that killed Google Glass was how dorky they looked – most people didn't want to walk around every day looking like a bad Star Trek cosplayer. Whether or not that's the real reason augmented reality (AR) glasses never took off, it's the story that other companies always push while marketing new devices that fit all the smarts into more normal-looking frames. And the latest to do exactly that is a start-up called Human Capable Inc., with its new Norm Glasses.
As a pair of relatively nondescript shades with plain black frames, Norm sure looks the norm. The company claims they look like regular old eyewear from the front and sides, and can be folded up like you would any ordinary pair. They're lightweight at up to 36 g (1.7 oz), come in three sizes, and can be fitted with any prescription lenses.
But all this normality is only notable because of the tech it's hiding underneath. Inside those plain frames Norm is packing a CPU, memory, storage, battery, microphone, and optical system, which lets it project information directly in front of your eyes. And of course, there's a camera in the front and speakers on the arms, right near your ears.
The features list sounds like everything you'd expect from AR glasses. Pairing with any smartphone via Bluetooth, Norm pops up text messages, email, websites, social media feeds, videos, language translations and navigation instructions as a head-up display. It can take photos and shoot video, which are stored on the glasses themselves until you transfer them to other devices. And it can scan barcodes and QR codes.
You can also make phone calls or listen to music – although with the open speakers, anyone within 1.5 ft (0.5 m) can hear it, so public transport privacy probably goes out the window.
Norm can be controlled through voice commands, a touch pad on the temple, an app on your phone, or through head gestures. The system runs Android and will apparently be augmented with apps down the track. It can also run offline for some features, if you're worried about giving hackers or unscrupulous cloud companies a first-person view into your life.
As with any portable device, battery life is a concern. On that front, the company says Norm will last four to five hours of continuous use, which it says should come out to a full day or two of normal usage.
Of course, Norm is far from the first attempt at AR glasses. While some, like the Magic Leap One, lean into the silly space-age look, others like the nReal Light take Norm's approach and try to hide the tech inside more modest eyewear. Either way, it looks like this once-stalled experiment might be on the rebound, with everyone from Microsoft to Sony to Bose to Google (again) getting in on it.
Human Capable Inc. is currently funding Norm via Kickstarter, where it's already smashed its US$15,000 goal and raised over $265,000 with 29 days still remaining on the campaign. Pledges start at $369, and if all goes to plan shipping is due to start in January 2020.
Check out the campaign video below.
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