Despite Google postponing its ‘Glass ‘ project, data glasses were a big topic at the Internet World Germany fair, with seven different models being shown by an independent research company. The stand was one of the most popular areas visited by brands and retailers, and offered a lot of insight around how data glasses could be used in future by businesses and consumers. Nicole Rudlin, head of Internet World Germany, looks at what the industry now looks like post-Google Glass shutdown…
Smart glasses are not dead: this was a sentiment echoed at the recent Internet World ecommerce fair in Munich. The subject was one of the most popular over the two-day conference.
Since Google relinquished its Google Glass project at the beginning of the year, it has since transpired it will likely continue development, but no longer test future products in public experiments. A number of other companies are backing the technology and working on genuinely useful products, so it seems that the proliferation of smart glasses – those with virtual and augmented capabilities – will happen at some point.
Vanessa Meister, trend researcher and expert in smart glasses at the innovation agency Futurecandy, demonstrated seven different models at the show: Google Glass, Vuzix M 100, Epson Moverio BT-200, Oculus Rift DK 2, Samsung Gear VR, Carl Zeiss One VR and Meta 1 Space Glass.
Apart from the Meta 1 Space Glass, all of these models are virtual or augmented reality glasses. Meta 1 is a totally new development that generates holographic images in 3D in the viewer’s field of vision while the real world remains visible. It’s suitable for providing realistic training to military personnel or firefighters, for instance, as well as for gaming. Some glasses can only be used in conjunction with a smartphone or tablet, such as Google Glass or One VR from Carl Zeiss.
The Vuzix device is a stand-alone piece of equipment, which comes with a frame, but is also flexible enough to be attached to other frames. Due to its robust design and augmented reality function, it is particularly well suited for use in logistics. The Oculus Rift DK 2 is a so-called head-mounted display without an integral processor. This means that it always requires a connection to a computer, serving as a second display.
With virtual reality 360° glasses, which occupy the user’s entire field of vision, people have the feeling of being immersed in a different world and the device is ideally suited to virtual shopping or for configuring cars, for example.
While the end of the Google Glass programme has led some to believe the demise of smart glasses is imminent, opinions vary on whether Google Glass has been a failure – it could transpire that it isn’t a consumer product and is better suited to business applications. There are already some companies and industries using Google Glass on a test basis, such as DHL, hospitals, electricians and other tradesmen, while increasing numbers of companies are developing business applications for the Oculus Rift.
Smart glasses technology has made incredible progress over the last few years. It’s possible that there are now too many renowned companies such as Facebook, Epson and Carl Zeiss backing the different glasses and promoting their development for the concept to be shelved.
So are smart glasses suitable for sale on the mass market? Saying not everybody will wear them in their current form is an understatement, but select glasses do suit particular scenarios.
People can, for instance, put on an Oculus while sitting at the computer to do some virtual shopping and then later on, during a train journey, watch a film using some Epson-style glasses but be aware of their surroundings. A Google Glass-style device for navigation could be used when driving.
Virtual reality glasses offer interesting potential for e-commerce. Entire virtual shopping centres could be replicated for this purpose, which users could then shop in from home. They could select products, view them in 3D, turn them via gesture control such as ‘leap motion’ and very simply change colours and sizes. Ikea has already shown how augmented reality can help customers find the right piece of furniture for their home.
It is also conceivable to share this experience with friends and go on a joint shopping trip. Other opportunities exist for products that are either not physical items or just too large to exhibit in a shop in sufficient numbers.
If we look at the evolution of buying a holiday, we’ve gone from going into a travel agency to look at a catalogue with two images per hotel to viewing hundreds of images on websites, while checking out reviews at the same time. In future, it’s conceivable that we’ll be able to take a virtual tour of a hotel and its rooms using smart glasses, getting an even better idea of the place as well as its surroundings. Estate agencies could follow a similar process for customers viewing properties.
When looking at future potential, this depends very much on the type of glasses. Virtual reality glasses such as the Oculus are suitable for both the private – primarily cinema, gaming and for further education or training – and the business spheres. In the business world, they could be used at events, for instance if exhibits are too large to be displayed.
Augmented reality glasses have already undergone testing in a warehouse management environment. During a pilot project, DHL found that having the correct route as well as the goods to be picked and scanned shown on a virtual display could produce significant time savings. In addition, augmented reality glasses could help us navigate, display calorie usage and speed in real time when doing sports, or guide us through aisles in the supermarket to find the products we’re looking for.
While the availability of smart glasses varies greatly, they are no longer a rarity. Well-known models such as those from Epson, Samsung and Carl Zeiss can be purchased directly from the manufacturers. Whether Google will sell off its remaining stock is uncertain. In terms of prices, discrepancies have developed, particularly between augmented reality and virtual reality glasses. As virtual reality glasses do not incorporate any processing components such as a graphics card, processor or sensors, this makes them substantially cheaper.
The industry is currently experiencing rapid developments, particularly in the area of hardware. Many small devices coming onto the market are inspiring new ideas. Where smart glasses will be used, and which areas of application will make sense in the future will depend on the companies and brands bold enough to experiment.
By Nicole Rüdlin
Head of Internet World Germany