Augmented Reality HUD Glasses

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:

Recon Instruments HUD Goggles

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:

Lumus HUD Glasses

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:

Vuzix Tac-Eye LT

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?

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9 Responses to Augmented Reality HUD Glasses

  1. Jereme Kramer UNITED STATES Google Chrome Linux says:

    Looking at the Vuzix Tac-Eye with its safety-glasses look, I see great possibilities of using this with machining (milling, lathing, etc). Normally you zero your dials/readouts, and then you either cut using the readout hoping you will notice anything going wrong out of the corner of your eye, or you use the dials to move into place and then cut while looking at the part, hoping the friction locks work. There’s plenty to gain in seeing both at once.

    As a regular consumer product, I’d be concerned about battery life. My assumption is that all of these devices are clunky in order to make room for a sufficient battery. One possible solution would be the ability to switch quickly from a standby mode to full operation. I’m fortunate enough to work with a lab that is developing brain-computer interfaces, and I think it should be possible to switch AR glasses on and off just by thinking. If the technology becomes more mainstream, I could see it being possible to completely control a phone using a BCI within the next few years, and head mounted glasses are a great way to do it.

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  2. Alphast NETHERLANDS Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    Actually, if you take a look at the most recent models of Vuzix, and at their adapters, it seems that they already handle smartphone connection (USB and IPhone). And the Wrap 1200VR doesn’t look uglier than many shades I have seen lately. A bit bulky, but not horrible… Although at 450 EUR for the cheapest model, I would say that is repulsive. :) But once the price is nearer to 250 EUR, I might buy it.

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  3. Mart SINGAPORE Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    First off, battery tech will need to improve by leaps and bounds before such a thing can take off. I’m talking about Kindle-level battery life, where I don’t recall the last time I charged it. My Android can barely take one day as it is. Don’t displays usually require quite a bit of power?

    Another is a matter of price. It will be difficult for it to be marketed as just an accessory to your mobile. Dropping a couple of hundred for your phone is one thing; dropping another hundred for a complementary device that works only on *some* apps is another. Will this act as a secondary display? How will different apps interact with one another? Can I display info from one app on one side, and another on the other, like widgets? If so, how do I control placement of such info?

    Also can I get them with prescription lenses? The primary reason I wear contacts is because I don’t want to wear glasses. Now I wear contacts so that I can wear yet another pair of glasses?

    Plus when even dorks like me think they look dorky, that’s a huge problem. I already hate people wearing bluetooth headsets. I don’t think I’m keen on seeing people with yet another device on the side of their face. It won’t be a gadget for geeks, but more of a status symbol then.

    Maybe I’m a bit skeptical but there are a lot of details to figure out before such a device can be marketed.

    Or maybe such a device isn’t for me. I’m the type of person who prefers a clean desktop screen. I don’t want real-life to be cluttered as well.

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  4. Rob UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows Terminalist says:

    Just what I need, the guy in the car that’s tailgating me reading his RSS feed.

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  5. Eric UNITED STATES Google Chrome Ubuntu Linux says:

    I seem to remember that the military had some issues with HUD on their aircraft. It sometimes causes the pilot to have major headaches. There have been a few crashes as a result.

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  6. StDoodle UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    A couple of points:

    You mention the antenna-like device would make one look like a dork. Didn’t everyone with a bluetooth headset look like a dork just a few years ago? These things can change fairly quickly.

    Also, as others have mentioned, battery life is a big deal for any kind of wireless connection. As someone whose prescription is worse than -8.0 RX in each eye, I can definitively tell you that a small amount of weight difference balanced on your nose and ears all day makes a HUGE difference.

    My brother is both an optician and a fledgling geek; I wonder why he hasn’t looked further into this…

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  7. Clark Dever UNITED STATES Google Chrome Windows says:

    Luke, thank you for the coverage of our product. To answer a few of your questions.

    >> That said, all modern phones have Bluetooth. So why not use that?

    The current released version of Bluetooth doesn’t have the bandwidth for video. The next generation specification does, but isn’t implemented on phones yet.

    >>Neither company seems to be targeting smart phones specifically

    All of our video eyewear and augmented reality glasses work with almost any video source. HDMI is still in development, but composite, vga, Apple’s 20-pin, etc are all currently covered. You can use your Wrap, Tac-Eye or STAR with your Android or iOS device without issue. With the release of iOS4 apple made it possible to display different views on the device and a video accessory, which opens up interesting opportunities to have a touch-screen controller and a video display. Along the same lines they made it rather trivial to “mirror” the screen from the iDevice to a video output, but app developers need to be asked to make the code changes. So the best way to get AR for your eyewear is to e-mail your favorite app developers and ask them to support it. We have developer resources and we are happy to help them support our device.

    >> 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.

    The Tac-Eye is built to MIL-STD-810G “MILSpec” standards for dust, shock, and immersion. It is a device constructed for people who live a rougher life than most civilians, that robustness comes with added cost. However, our Wrap series of products do hit a consumer price point and I’m sure the STAR (See Through Augmented Reality) series will get there in the next few years.

    @Jereme Kramer
    >> My assumption is that all of these devices are clunky in order to make room for a sufficient battery.

    Actually much of the “Clunkiness” is due to the size of the display engine. Unfortunately, at this point we can’t change the laws of physics and so there are necessary geometries to get the field of view and perceived image size to enjoyable dimensions. However, we’re trying to hack our way around that using holographs and wave-guides, you can read about the technology here: http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/04/holograms-bring-hell/ . As far as battery life is concerned Vuzix devices are actually extremely energy efficient, our displays run on a few hundred milliamps of power, the tac-eye can run 6 hours on two AA batteries (This comes from our defense pedigree and the needs of soldiers in the field).

    @Mart:
    >> Also can I get them with prescription lenses?

    All of our consumer eyewear have +2 to -5 diopters built in.

    I hope my answers shed some light on some of your questions, please feel free to reach out if your have any further questions. You can reach us on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/vuzix or on facebook at http://www.facebook.com/vuzix

    We’re also looking forward to First-Person Augmented Reality experiences using smart phones, we’re trying to get their as fast as we can. Thank you for your support.

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  8. If you’re interested in HUD glasses you should read “Daemon” and “Freedom TM” by Daniel Suarez. The characters use their glasses both as powerful information display but also to control login to their virtual world (Daemon Space).

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  9. Morghan UNITED STATES Safari Linux says:

    I’m hoping that dropping nerd-spec versions doesn’t remove their tough products from offer. I’m out in the rain and muck enough that I need a mil-spec device. I’ve been through enough laptops and phones that I’m hoping for a Toughbook or Getac style mobile offering to come about that isn’t so ridiculously low spec that I need one for work and another for high end apps. I know mountain man nerd crossovers are kinda rare, but never being able to meet all of my needs with one device is getting really old.

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