Vuzix knows that people don’t want to be embarrassed when they put something on their face. So the company is working hard to ship a pair of augmented reality smartglasses this year that will be thin enough to wear comfortably.
The Rochester, N.Y.-based company unveiled its latest models, the Blade 3000 smart Sunglasses and the M3000 Smart Glasses in January at CES 2017, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas. Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix, said in an interview with VentureBeat that the new models won’t be clunky.
The devices use Vuzix’s new ultrathin waveguide-based optics and Cobra II engine, incorporating Texas Instruments digital light processing (DLP) Pico display technology. Vuzix said these technologies will enable AR-based products with some of the smallest and lightest form factors available today. Vuzix is targeting a weight of 2.8 ounces, or 80 grams.
Above: Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix, wears the company’s prototype AR smartglasses.
I tried out a prototype of the smartglasses. You can see right through them as if they were transparent, but the optics engine can project images onto the screen so that it blends in with what you are seeing in the real world. This kind of augmented reality and its cousin, virtual reality, are expected to generate a $108 billion market by 2021, according to tech advisor Digi-Capital.
Above: Vuzix smartglasses
“With ours, you can wear it,” Travers said. “You won’t be embarrassed. It is an all day long device. The others wear you out. But you won’t get tired of wearing ours. And you’ll look at images with high quality.”
There’s a lot of competition. Lots of companies have the same dream of creating lightweight AR glasses. But there are often trade-offs. To make the imagery vivid takes a lot of processing power and good display technology, but that is often heavy and expensive.
Osterhout Design Group is working on its R series AR smartglasses, and it has an R-8 model coming out this year for $1,000 that weighs about 4.5 ounces. DigiLens, meanwhile, promises AR glasses displays that will have a wider field of view and will be “eye-glass thin.”
Vuzix has been working on the technology a long time. It was founded in 1997 to make products like thermal weapons sights for the U.S. military. The company is publicly traded on Nasdaq and has 49 patents and 43 applications for patents pending.
“It’s not an overnight success,” Travers said.
Above: Vuzix smartglasses have the projector housed in the side bar.
With Vuzix’s design, the projector assembly is built into the arm, making that part slightly heavier. By contrast, others are putting a “candy bar” on top of the glasses. But Travers said that can make people tired because of the extra bulk.
“If you go house to house as an insurance adjuster, you have to be able to wear it for the whole day,” he said.
Vuzix uses a quadcore Marvell processor and runs Android 5.0. It has 32 gigabytes of memory, ambient sensors, and a microphone. It will also have Google Assistant for voice commands. It uses a waveguide optical solution. Travers is targeting a price of less than $1,000 this year, and maybe $500 in 2018. The device is expected to ship in the second half of the year.
Travers said the company is targeting enterprises, which won’t mind the extra cost. That’s because AR could potentially save companies a lot of money in applications like inspecting equipment remotely or using AR to help technicians visualize what they have to do to fix equipment. Telemedicine is also a big target.
“We want to make things practical and usable,” Travers said. “We don’t think that the others have solved all the problems that we have.”
“I think if the industry could make it just like a pair of Oakley sunglasses, half the U.S. would want to buy it,” Travers said.
Intel invested $22.5 million in Vuzix, and the company has raised more than $100 million. Vuzix has 47 employees.