These information glasses provide a glimpse into the longer term that Apple and Fb are planning

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Avegant, a start-up in San Mateo, California, has built an LED light engine that could enable device manufacturers to create small, stylish augmented reality data glasses.

Courtesy Avegant

I recently tried a prototype of Avegant smart glasses which gave me a glimpse into a future where we could potentially watch videos, get directions, see notifications, and more, all through a pair of traditional-looking sunglasses.

These types of glasses could be the next big thing as companies like Facebook, Snap, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and others look beyond phones.

I wore Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens, Snaps Spectacles and most recently the Ray-Ban Stories glasses from Facebook. But they all have shortcomings. They are either too big and bulky to carry everywhere (Hoolens), don’t show anything on the lenses (Facebook) or look silly (glasses, Hololens, Google Glass).

Big tech companies need smart glasses to look normal if they are to stand a chance of success. So you’re desperately looking for a display component that is small and can be manufactured and shipped in the next year or two, Avegant CEO Edward Tang told CNBC.

Avegant doesn’t make data glasses, but has put together a pair of prototypes to demonstrate the capabilities of a new LED augmented reality light engine that the company unveiled to the public this fall. And I was impressed.

Here’s what you need to know.

The problem with current ‘smart’ glasses

Many companies build smart glasses, but they all have different approaches. It’s kind of a mess. Here is a quick summary:

  • Microsoft’s $ 3,500 Hololens and $ 2,295 Magic Leap 1 are the most advanced, but they’re bulky and more like goggles.
  • Amazon is selling the Echo Frames for $ 249.99, but they only let you talk to Alexa and you won’t see augmented reality visuals through the lenses.
  • Facebook’s $ 299 Ray-Ban Stories glasses can be used to take photos and videos, but little else. The latest version of Snaps Spectacles has some AR visuals but is out of fashion and only available to social media creators.
  • Google repurposed its $ 999 Glass device for corporate customers after it was rejected by the public on privacy concerns.
  • Apple is also reportedly working on its own glasses, but it is still unclear when they will be presented to the public, let alone released.

Avegant believes it has a solution that could help companies create a product that ordinary people would want to buy.

Its new light engine, which is thinner than a pencil and weighs as much as a large paper clip, fits into the hinge and temple of the glasses, where it can show the wearer high-resolution images. The light engine could allow some companies that don’t have large in-house hardware engineering teams to build eyeglasses that are as stylish and small as a pair of Ray-Bans, but with the visual capabilities that are found in science fiction -Dreamed of films like “Terminator”. “

A look into the future

I demonstrated the light engine in October when Tang handed me the prototype glasses that his team had built. They were thin and looked like normal glasses, except that they were wired to a smartphone. The prototype is intended to demonstrate how small a hardware manufacturer can produce glasses with the Avegant light engine.

“We are preparing our stuff to have the smallest display that can be manufactured for these customers,” said Tang.

I put the glasses on. A translucent blue square lit up in the center of my field of vision, showing an indicator overlaid over what I was seeing in real life. Then the demo started.

The glasses began to scroll through various images. The small translucent screen showed me the weather, a stock chart and a text message. I looked in the direction of Tang and could see him, but the images also appeared crystal clear above him. It was real augmented reality.

The highlight of the demo was when the glasses started playing a video. It was an excerpt from a soccer game from this year’s Euro 2020. I saw the green grass, the huge crowd and the players passing the ball before the striker scored a goal into the net. The game looked as good and big as if I was watching the TV in the living room at home or sitting in a sports bar with friends.

The Avegant Light Engine offers a 30 degree field of view and appeared like a rectangle in the center of my line of sight.

I gave the glasses back to Tang, who put them on and watched the demo. I could barely tell that he was watching anything, although I noticed a subtle hint of blue light on the lens. It seemed like he was daydreaming.

But there are still downsides. Manufacturers who use the Avegant Light Engine have to determine how much battery life their smart glasses should have. The longer the battery life, the more bulky the glasses become. Likewise, a 30-degree field of view is on par with the first Hololens, but it’s a smaller window than Microsoft’s Hololens 2.

The reality

Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories glasses can take photos and videos through cameras on every corner of the device frame.

Courtesy Ashley Bogdan

Components like Avegant’s can help some tech companies create smart glasses that people will want to wear. But it’s still in its infancy and skeptics don’t believe we’ll have normal-looking smart glasses anytime soon.

“The long-term vision here is to get rid of your phone in hand and wear your phone on your face,” said Kevin Irwin, chief investment officer, Knollwood Investment. Irwin is an investor in Avegant.

Avegant is not yet mass-producing its light engine. It provides a business model in which the component is sold to companies who can build it into their data glasses.

Larger companies may not even need Avegants’ technology, explained Karl Guttag, an expert on augmented reality display devices.

“Facebook and Apple are down to earth companies – they have phenomenal, huge teams working on these things,” said Guttag. “You don’t need an Avegant if you understand my drift, while a snap maybe because they’re not really in it. You would be looking for a component. “

Guttag also has his doubts whether smart glasses could replace smartphones in the near future, which would limit Avegant’s prospects.

“The expectation that these things will be like Ray-Bans is a long way off,” said Guttag. “Now something like the Avegant engine could bring you something that is moderately stylish. It gets a little bigger and bulkier, but not quite that far.”

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