Avegant, a start-up from San Mateo, Calif., Has built an LED light engine that could allow device makers to create stylish little augmented reality smart glasses.
Courtesy of Avegant
I recently tried out a prototype pair of smart glasses from Avegant that gave me a glimpse of a future where we might be able to watch videos, get instructions, see notifications and more, all thanks to to 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’ve worn Google Glass, Microsoft Hololens, Snap’s, and most recently Ray-Ban Stories from Facebook. But these all have flaws. Either they’re too big and bulky to wear everywhere (Hololens), don’t display anything on lenses yet (Facebook), or look silly (Glasses, Hololens, Google Glass.)
Big tech companies are going to need smart glasses to look normal if they are to have any chance of success. So they’re desperately looking for a small display component that can be made and shipped in a year or two, Avegant CEO Edward Tang told CNBC.
Avegant does not make smart glasses, but has developed a pair of prototypes to demonstrate the capabilities of a new augmented reality LED lighting engine that the company unveiled to the public this fall. And I was impressed.
Here’s what you need to know.
The problem with today’s “smart” glasses
There are many companies that make smart glasses, but they all take different approaches. It’s kind of a mess. Here’s a quick recap:
- Microsoft’s $ 3,500 Hololens and $ 2,295 Magic Leap 1 are the most advanced, but they’re bulky and more like goggles.
- Amazon offers the Echo frames for $ 249.99, but they just let you talk to Alexa and you don’t see any augmented reality visuals through the lenses.
- The $ 299 Ray-Ban Stories glasses from Facebook can be used for taking photos and videos, but little else. The latest version of Snap’s Spectacles features AR visuals, but it’s not trendy and only available to social media creators.
- Google reallocated its $ 999 Glass device for corporate clients after it was publicly rejected over privacy concerns.
- Apple is also would work on his own glasses, but we still do not know when they will be unveiled let alone made public.
Avegant thinks they have a solution that could help businesses create a product that everyday people will want to buy.
Its new light engine, which is thinner than a pencil and weighs as much as a large paperclip, fits into the hinge and temple of the glasses where it can show high-definition visuals to the wearer. The light engine could allow some companies that don’t have huge in-house hardware engineering teams to create glasses as stylish and small as a pair of Ray-Ban’s, but with the visual capabilities imagined in science movies. -fiction like “Terminator”. “
I demonstrated the light engine in October when Tang handed me the prototype goggles built by his team. They were slim and looked like any normal pair of glasses, except that they were attached to a smartphone by a cable. The prototype is intended to demonstrate how well a computer hardware manufacturer can make a pair of glasses using Avegant’s light engine.
âWe are preparing our business to have the smallest manufacturable display for these customers,â Tang said.
I put on the glasses. A translucent blue square appeared in the center of my field of view, showing a screen superimposed on what I was seeing in real life. Then the demo started.
Glasses began to run through different visuals. The small, translucent screen showed me the weather, a stock chart and a text message conversation. I was looking in Tang’s direction and could see him, but the images also appeared above him with crystal clarity. It was real augmented reality.
The highlight of the demo was when the glasses started playing a video. It was a clip from a football match in the Euro 2020 tournament this summer. I saw the green grass, the huge crowd and the players pass the ball before the striker scored a goal in the net. The game looked as good and as great as if I was watching TV from my living room at home or sitting with friends in a sports bar.
The Avegant light engine provides a 30 degree field of view and appeared like a rectangle in the middle of my line of sight.
I returned the pair of glasses to Tang, who put them on and started watching the demo. I could barely tell he was looking at anything, although I noticed a subtle hint of blue light on the lens. He looked like he was dreaming.
But there are still drawbacks. Manufacturers using the Avegant light engine will need to determine how much battery life they want for their smart glasses. The longer the battery life, the larger the glasses will be. Likewise, a 30-degree field of view is comparable to that of the first Hololens, but it’s a smaller window than that of Microsoft’s Hololens 2.
Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories glasses can take photos and videos with cameras located at each corner of the device’s bezels.
Courtesy of Ashley Bogdan
Components like Avegant’s can help some tech companies develop smart glasses that people will want to wear. But it’s still early days, and skeptics don’t think we’ll have normal-looking smart glasses anytime soon.
âThe long-term vision here is to get rid of your phone in your hand, and you will wear your phone on your face,â said Kevin Irwin, chief investment officer at Knollwood Investment. Irwin is an investor in Avegant.
Avegant does not yet mass produce its light engine. He is considering a business model in which he will sell the component to companies that can integrate it into their smart glasses.
Large companies may not even need Avegan’s technology, explained Karl Guttag, an expert in augmented reality display devices.
âFacebook and Apple are founded companies – they have phenomenal, huge teams working on this stuff,â Guttag said. “They don’t need Avegant, if you understand my drift, whereas a Snap might because they’re not really in it. They would be looking to get a component.”
Guttag also doubts that smart glasses will replace smartphones at any time in the near future, which would limit Avegant’s prospects.
âThe expectation that these things are going to look like Ray-Ban is nowhere near the charts,â Guttag said. “Now something like what Avegant’s motor does might give you something moderately sleek. It’s going to be a little bigger and bulkier, but not all the way.”