Wearables

Hands-on: ODG's smartglasses are straight out of a William Gibson novel

Gizmag handles ODG's smartglasses, which are much more immersive than Google Glass (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag handles ODG's smartglasses, which are much more immersive than Google Glass (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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We try on one of the most sci-fi-like products we've ever used (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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We try on one of the most sci-fi-like products we've ever used (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The consumer version of ODG's glasses, with a more transparent display (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The consumer version of ODG's glasses, with a more transparent display (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The side of the consumer version (there's an optical sensor on top, for navigating the UI) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The side of the consumer version (there's an optical sensor on top, for navigating the UI) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Top-down view of the AR glasses (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Top-down view of the AR glasses (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The dual displays provide a crisp and colorful HD image (though it looked better on the more opaque military/industrial model) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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The dual displays provide a crisp and colorful HD image (though it looked better on the more opaque military/industrial model) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
It has removable lens attachments, which snap on magnetically (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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It has removable lens attachments, which snap on magnetically (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
ODG's Nima Shams models the military/industrial model (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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ODG's Nima Shams models the military/industrial model (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
A closer look at the military/industrial glasses, which are in use by some mystery organization(s) already (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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A closer look at the military/industrial glasses, which are in use by some mystery organization(s) already (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Gizmag handles ODG's smartglasses, which are much more immersive than Google Glass (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
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Gizmag handles ODG's smartglasses, which are much more immersive than Google Glass (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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.

The consumer version of ODG's glasses, with a more transparent display (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The consumer version of ODG's glasses, with a more transparent display (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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.

The dual displays provide a crisp and colorful HD image (though it looked better on the more opaque military/industrial model) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
The dual displays provide a crisp and colorful HD image (though it looked better on the more opaque military/industrial model) (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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.

Top-down view of the AR glasses (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)
Top-down view of the AR glasses (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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: ODG

4 comments
NateR
The stereoscopic vision thing is great, but the option of putting prescription lenses in really allows this product to pick up a market the original google glass completely overlooked. Considering the number of "early adopters" who need to wear prescription lenses full time, I think google really shot themselves in the foot a little there. I think as these technologies become more attractive, and service a higher degree of the marketplace, we'll see more peopel adopting these technologies. That's going to make them more widely accepted, as the "everyman" sees them as more and more "normal". A battery that lasts more than a couple of hours would probably help these products reach a consumer market no end as well.
Gregg Eshelman
"the optical sensor on top of its right arm" There's a fail right there, the assumption that everyone is right handed, ambidextrous or even has a right hand at all. Either put a sensor on both sides or make it a plug in module that can be installed on either side.
Kristianna Thomas
I was looking at VR goggles, an understatement, and these beauties, wishing that the goggles were of the same style. VR goggles look like you are a Nerd from the Crab Nebula. or a drone from the Borg collective awaiting orders from the Queen (We are Borg, your uniqueness will be added to our collective whole.). These glasses look like a person (human) would be glad to be caught wearing in public, even for homo sapiens with non-perfect vision.
kalqlate
The spiraling Magic Leap retina-writing lasers will obsolete this product: http://www.magicleap.com/#/home