Most companies working on smart glasses got started building systems for the military. Lumus’s technology is used by pilots in the U.S. Air Force and U.S. National Guard. Vuzix got started working on pilot goggles for the U.S. Air Force that overlaid a preview of a weapon’s blast radius onto the place being targeted, to increase awareness of potential collateral damage.
The software needed to offer heads-up augmented reality is far ahead of the hardware. Various augmented reality apps for smart phones can already recognize markers, text, or even landmarks in front of a device’s camera and respond by overlaying text or visuals onto a view of a scene.
One example of this type of augmented reality at CES was Aurasma, a division of software company Autonomy. Aurasma’s app can recognize images or landmarks and add virtual 3-D objects, for example showing dragons circling London’s Big Ben to promote a Harry Potter movie. The app has been downloaded over two million times.
Aurasma can also recognize hand gestures, making virtual content interactive—a feature that would be valuable in smart goggles. “What we’ve got today would work just as well with goggles if they were available,” says Matt Mills, head of partnerships and innovation at Aurasma.
Mills says many Google searches are made to find out more about things that are literally right in front of us. “We’re trying to move things on to the point where this is the way you get your information, rather than having to use a Web browser,” says Mills. “It’s much faster to snap a picture.”
Another headset on display at CES demonstrated how smart goggles could immerse the wearer in a world far removed from the one in front of them. Sensics, a Columbia, Maryland, company, showed off its Smart Goggles, which cover a person’s eyes and ears, and look like an updated version of Robocop’s helmet. A video display in front of each eye allows the Smart Goggles to completely immerse the wearer in a virtual 3-D environment. The front of the Smart Goggles is studded with 11 cell-phone cameras, which can be used to detect hand and arm gestures to allow a person to interact with what they see.
“When you’re playing Fruit Ninja, you can really be swiping with your hand instead of tapping on your phone’s screen,” says Jason Kaplan, who leads business development at Sensics. Inside the goggles, a dual-core mobile processor runs the latest version of Google’s Android mobile operating system, Ice Cream Sandwich.
Bradford Schmidt, head of media at GoPro, which makes small digital cameras used by extreme sports enthusiasts to capture their experiences firsthand, said he’d like to connect Sensic’s technology with his own. “We do a lot of RC planes, and we would love to have a set of goggles where you can fly the plane from its point of view.”