This might just be an aftermath of reading Halting State, but lately I have been wondering why don’t we have affordable HUD glasses yet. I’m not talking about ocular input / eye tracking stuff – just a nice HUD overlay controlled via your phone. Having an embedded display in a pair glasses just makes sense to me. Am I the only one? It seems like a logical extension of our ongoing mobile technology trend. After all, the impetus right now is to make people more connected, isn’t it. Bluetooth headsets are more or less ubiquitous these days, and most people really enjoy the hands-free calling. Wouldn’t it be convenient to have your phones display hovering in your field of vision rather than having to slump down and squint to see it?
The technology we would need to make them already exists. For example, there is a company called Recon Instruments makes HUD enabled skiing goggles that look like this:
Granted, their product is basically just a self contained GPS unit. Not necessarily what I had in mind, but I guess it works as a proof of concept. Not to mention that this is not a true HUD, but a tiny display built into the frame. Also if you wear it on the street, or during the summer people may question your grip on sanity.
A Japanese firm Docomo has been developing a similar product, designing it to make you look only slightly less retarded. Their AR Walker mounts a tiny display on a phallic protrusion that would be attached to your glasses, and it uses the software installed on your phone:
So instead of appearing like you are power ranger who forgot to wear spandex today, you just look like a tool. To add insult to the injury the utility of their device seems limited to displaying directions and weather forecasts, delivered by a suspiciously penis looking mushroom mascott. Which I guess may not be bad if you are into that sort of a thing.
The seem to be trying to market their product as an affordable HUD solution, but I doubt it will catch on. And not just because of the phallic symbolism. Most people simply have no need for a glorified GPS unit mounted in their glasses. Their focus is to narrow.
There are at least two other companies out there that make glasses full HUD experience similar to stuff Charles Stross described in Halting State. One of them is Lumus, which actually seems to have a consumer market grade product out there somewhere. A very ugly one at that too:
I have seen movie theater issued cheapo plastic 3D glasses that looked sexier than this. I don’t know much about fashion, but I’m fairly sure that pair of goggles like this are not what is in right now.
The other company is Vuzix which sells Tac-Eye LT gear:
Glasses that will make you look like a serial killer, disgruntled woodsman or a shell shocked deer hunter. So I guess more “respectable” than the dokolicious Lumus specs, but I don’t think you want that kind of respect.
But I guess these were designed to look that way. They are apparently used by US Air Force (or at least they are being purchased by it) which probably prefers functionality over design, and does not mind that the people wearing them will look like they are about to shoot someone (because they probably are).
Don’t get excited though. I’m fairly sure you won’t be able to afford pair of murder glasses to call your own. They are fiendishly expensive.
Both Lumus and Vuzix models are general purpose displays that you can hook up to just about anything though the preference seems to be toward some sort of portable PC type device. Neither company seems to be targeting smart phones specifically. Their primary customer seem to be military and that’s what is currently driving the design.
I imagine there would be a lucrative market for a HUD glasses that could work with iPhones and Android devices. The software we need to make these to work is almost there. I have a Yelp app on my phone which uses augmented reality overlay to show me how to get to nearby restaurants. I also have Google app that lets me look up information on things by simply pointing my phone at them. We are already half way there. The problem is that when I use these nifty apps in public I end up looking like a complete tool. No lady, I’m not trying to snap your picture – I’m using my Augmented Reality app to find a pizza place that does not suck. This would be much less awkward if I had a pair of wireless HUD glasses on.
That’s the other thing. Lumus and Vuzix devices are wired. Let’s face it – no one will want to wear glasses that you need to plug in. I mean, if you do that, you might as well invest in some white masking tape and pocket protector while you are at it. That said, all modern phones have Bluetooth. So why not use that? I have actually no clue if the technology has enough throughput to handle video transmissions – I will leave this as an exercise for the readers. Chances are that it may be too slow for full screen gaming, or military purposes, but good enough for reading emails, or displaying a map and/or AR overlays.
The personal HUD technology is still very expensive. I imagine that the prices will drop eventually, but I don’t think they will drop lower than few hundred bucks. And that’s more than most people would be willing to pay for a pair of glasses. Unless of course you can slap a fashionable brand on them. I may be mistaken (I don’t venture out from under my rock too often) but I think oversized glasses are in these days which should make hiding all the projection hardware and circuitry that much easier.
Once you have workable technology, hook up with a sun glasses designer whose products are in right now. Make a high end model and market the shit out of it. It’s risky, but at least there is a chance it will catch on. People use sunglasses as a status symbol and no one is going to drop few hundred bucks to look like a dork. So I guess the way to corner this market is to start with high end models that would appeal to fashionistas and hipsters.
Would you buy HUD glasses if they worked with your phone and offered you full access to all the features and an augmented reality experience? How much would you be wiling to pay for such a gadget? What would be some must-have features?