As dynamic as research and development is in the world of technology, film and science fiction have made us so jaded and impatient for the world of flying cars that it takes more than a new smartphone or tablet to get us overly excited. Then every once in a while something really impressive comes along… Although still in production, ‘Augmented reality head-mounted displays’ (AR glasses or HMD’s) are expected to hit the market as early as year end 2012, bringing with them new meaning to the term ‘hands free’.
Japanese camera and optics company, Olympus has been developing these wearable displays for more than twenty years. The purpose of these ‘smart’ glasses is basically to give the wearer use of both hands (imagine that) so they can get on with other stuff while all the information available to them on their smart phones is projected for them. Like Apple’s Siri, the wearer would interact with the device through voice commands. The display can even increase the brightness and intensity of colours to make the world a much prettier place when worn. Again, the concept isn’t new – Olympus introduced the Mobile Eye-Trek in 2008, it was never released but the prototype was successful enough that they were confident a production version would be available this year. The new 30g MEG4.0 is a slight aesthetic improvement on the Eye-Trek but if looks are terribly important to you, you probably won’t want to wear either. The MEG4.0 has an enlarged arm on one side of the glasses and connects to a tablet or phone through Bluetooth. A virtual screen with a resolution of 320 x 240 pixels hovers just above the wearer’s eye line, making all your information available right in front of you whenever you need it. The device should last eight hours if fully charged and is intended for everyday use but designed to be used for short periods at a time, short being 15 seconds. This could prove problematic for the type-A-personality workaholics who were hoping they would be able to run 10k on the treadmill, drive home and cook dinner while checking emails. However, anyone who needs to be that connected should probably just stay at work.
Not to be outdone, Google’s ‘Project Glass‘ is developing the highly anticipated ‘Google Glass’ which is currently being tested, with consumers getting the chance the see how their lives could be enhanced by the AR’s. Google Glass will have the benefit of Google’s vast depth of information, user-familiar interface and Android operating system which will make them a big player on the AR market. While not as bulky as the MEG4.0, the slim band has a slightly creepy ‘Robocop’ feel and the enlarged arm creeps around to the front of the face which could be distracting to the wearer. A large part of their campaign is the ‘human’ aspect of the AR’s, with consumer case studies wearing the glasses as they go about their daily lives, sharing their experiences with loved ones in real time like a hands free Skype. This is in addition to being integrated smart specs. Google Glass AR’s are expected to be on the market in early 2013 at an eye-watering $1,500.
Needless to say, this technology will not be accessible to all and it will be a few more years until they are an option for the ‘every man’ they claim to be developing them for. With multiple companies now in the race to be the first, patent their technology and leave the competition looking helplessly on while the market develops, we can expect big things. And fast. At the moment Google seems to be leading the way. With Olympus’s AR’s lacking a camera and having not disclosed their operating system or retail prices they seem to be a little behind the front. On top of that, the usage time of fifteen seconds every three minutes is likely to irritate even the most patient person. Sadly though, patience may be needed in any case, with talk of Google using the device as an extended shop window. The company makes the bulk of their revenue from advertisement and it would be silly of us to expect them not to project ads straight onto our retinas given the chance.