The Ghost of Smart Glasses Past: Resurrecting Augmented Reality Wearables

February 28, 2018 by Chantelle Dubois

Here is a look at a few augmented reality headset projects and uses, and why there is still a case for AR in 2018.

Thought you'd seen the last of Google Glass? Here are some ways that augmented reality smart glass technologies are making their way into efficient shipping, security, and perhaps even back into the consumer wearable space.

The Google Glass, an augmented reality headset that resembled glasses, received mixed reception when it was first announced in 2012. Many tech-forward people were excited at the prospect of connectivity so ubiquitous, you wouldn’t even have to look down at your phone anymore to communicate, navigate, and find information online. 

Others thought the eyewear looked goofy and some were concerned about potential privacy invasions that could incur from eyewear that could (theoretically) record a user's conversations without permission.

After a trial period, a consumer edition of Google Glass was released. However, the product was eventually canceled. The reasoning for this was apparently a mix of confusion by consumers on what the product was for, confusion on whether it was actually a finished product, as well as negative attention the product received throughout its marketing campaign. The $1,500 price tag also probably didn’t help.

Since then, few other companies have taken a serious go at the augmented reality eyewear realm for consumer use. However, several projects seem to suggest that steam is picking up on the revitalization of the concept, probably assisted by the boom in wearable devices in general. Here is a look at a few augmented reality headset projects and uses, and why there is still a case for AR in 2018.

Apple Granted Patent for Headmounted Display

Apple has yet to really break ground in virtual or augmented reality, but a patent filed in 2016 and granted early this year at least suggests the company acknowledges it as a potential path to consider. 

The focus of the patent appears to be making the headset as light as possible, using a catadioptric lensing system and describes what appears to be both a fully virtual reality device and an augmented reality device, both meant to be worn on the head. 

Augmented reality eyewear would probably work well within the Apple ecosystem, especially since the company has already had proven success with wearable devices (i.e., the Apple watch) and really interesting technology from the iPhone X’s facial recognition feature. Additionally, Apple’s focus on aesthetically pleasing technology would probably mean that any eyewear tech it produces would, at very least, be more sartorially appealing than the original Google Glass.

Intel's Vaunt Projecting Notifications Using Lasers

It sounds like science fiction, but Intel’s Vaunt eyewear is a discrete device which projects images directly onto the corner of the user’s retina using a class 1 laser, a class of laser-safe enough to point right into your eye for long periods of time. 

The Vaunt isn’t a full-blown smart eyewear headset, but it does accomplish much of smartwatches can do, such as display messages or alerts from a smartphone or device it's paired with. The Vaunt projects these notifications to the eye and different head motions can evoke different response actions through motion tracking. 

Intel’s smart headset seems to still be in the concept stages at this time, but it's probably a step in the right direction in terms of balancing functionality with appearance—it would still be useful to get eye level notifications while still looking discretely like regular eyewear.​



Image from Twitter.

Using Smart Glasses for Law Enforcement

Police in the city of Zhengzhou in China are using smart glasses to help identify suspects and recognize fake IDs. The glasses, which look very similar to the Google Glass product, connect to the police database and can recognize faces, alerting the officer wearing them of matches in their field of view. 

China employs a high degree of surveillance over its citizens. The concept may seem invasive to outsiders, especially when such glasses can passively scan large crowds and continue adding information to its database. 

On the other hand, this is a method that can be used to help identify criminals that might otherwise go unnoticed to the unaided eye.


Image courtesy of China News Service via MIT.

Google Glass for Enterprise Use

While the consumer Google Glass product was taken off shelves, Alphabet announced in July 2017 that it would revive the concept for enterprise use in the workplace to increase efficiency. One company taking part is DHL, an international shipping giant.

The use of Google Glass by DHL employees reportedly resulted in a 15% increase in productivity. Within a warehouse, the wearable tech has been helpful because all an employee needs to do is pick up a package, look at its barcode, and all the relevant information about that individual package is then displayed. Without the Google Glass, employees would need to read paper IDs and manually cross-reference them with records. 


Image courtesy of DHL.



So while Google Glass initially failed as a consumer product, it may find its niche in logistics and workplace streamlining. 


We've gone over a few smart glass and augmented reality projects currently out there, but there are many more on the horizon. Do you think 2018 is the year these devices finally take off? Perhaps the bigger question is whether their utility has overcome their famously dorky look—or if their stylishness has caught up to their utility.