Augmented Reality Smart Glasses – Are they the Future?

What’s the deal with AR Glasses?

Our first impressions of AR glasses are probably from the first generation of Google Glass, announced way back in 2013. It generated an uproar of interest before going public, but was quickly dismissed by the general public after its launch. However, after Google launched their AR glasses, many other companies picked up on this trend, and began development of their own version of the AR glasses. Google can be considered as the pioneer of this technology.

Google Glass (Image Source: Wikipedia)  

Why are corporations investing in the development of AR glasses?

After Google, there have been a multitude of corporations that launched their version of AR glasses. Among them include Microsoft with Hololens, Snapchat with Spectacles, Magic Leap with Magic Leap One, and many more. Apple mentioned that they are working on two AR project, including an AR headset to be released in 2022, as well as a sleeker pair of AR glasses in 2023. Google Glass also launched their second-gen Enterprise Edition 2 in May 2019, and opened it up for direct purchase early 2020. Google also recently bought North, a company focused on building AR glasses, leveraging on North’s technical expertise to continue improving Google’s Glass. According to Google Glass project lead, Jay Kothari, there was “strong demand from developers and businesses who are interested in building new, helpful enterprise solutions for Glass.” It is safe to say that AR glasses are being reviewed in a new light since its introduction and lukewarm reception in 2013.

We predict a future where AR glasses and visual search engines become seamlessly integrated, with AR glasses tapping on to Google’s image search in its seemingly infinite database of information, to provide another convenient method of information search. See an item of clothing you like, and immediately search and compare similar styles, without having to manually search using keywords and descriptions. A visual search may also provide a more accurate search result compared to a manual search.

As we’ve noticed, mobile phones are becoming thinner and more borderless over the years. One reason for this is to reduce the boundary between the virtual and real world. Mobile phone manufacturers strive to make phones borderless, to fulfil our subconscious need to merge the best of both worlds, allowing users to better experience this new, augmented reality outside of the screen of their mobile devices. With this trend, we believe that AR glasses may one day even surpass smartphones in the sense that it allows the user to be directly transported into this virtual environment without being limited to the screens of our mobile devices. AR glasses give users a wider field of information, with the freedom to view and interact with information directly overlaid on real-world items. In the future, we might even be able access AR, switching from virtual reality back to the real world with just a simple click of a button, like how we take a break from our phones by putting it aside. Our smartphones may even be used to control the AR devices, as technology becomes more integrated.

Nreal Light AR glasses (Image Source: engadget)

Current Issues with AR Glasses

1. Privacy

After Snapchat announced the launch of Spectacles – their camera-equipped sunglasses that can easily take photos or videos and seamlessly upload them on Snapchat, YouGov reported that almost 50% of people surveyed worry about being around someone wearing the Spectacles, as they were worried about privacy concerns. Which was partially what the first-gen of Google Glass struggled with, where some corporations have even prohibited the use of Google Glass in their offices.

British TV series Black Mirror touched on this irrational fear in their episode The Entire History of You (S01E03), featuring augmented reality “eyes”, where fragments of their daily lives and people in their surrounding areas are consistently recorded and stored away, ready to rewatch at any time.

2. Price

The first-gen Google Glass cost around US$150 to manufacture, but their market price is almost ten times the cost, at a whooping US$1,500. Although the manpower and hours put in its development is undeniably expensive, the price is too steep, becoming a major deterrent for consumers to purchase the gear to try at their leisure. Now, the second-gen Google Glass retails at around US$999 onwards, which is still a little over budget for leisure use. Perhaps in the future, as smartphones and AR glasses become more heavily integrated, AR glasses may become more widespread, leading to more developers investing in its research and development.

3. Security

When you wear AR glasses, virtual information is overlaid onto the real world, which may cause users’ attention to be distracted. Similar to when you play Pokemon Go, there are constant pop-ups which remind users to pay attention to the safety of your surroundings. AR glasses also have safety concerns in this regard. How AR glasses can prioritize and highlight dangers in the real world is an important question that developers need to answer.

With that being said, many companies are working on development and research in AR glasses now. We are hopeful that these tools will push AR to an even bigger platform, and make it as mainstream as smartphones and smart watches.

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