How practical are smart glasses?

Taylor Martin
 from Concord, NC
Published: January 6, 2012

I think it's safe to say that 2012 will be the year of mobile peripherals. Not long ago, we learned that Google and Apple were secretly slaving away in research and development on wearable computing. We assume this "wearable" computing will be more advanced adaptations of existing tech: smart watches, clothing that can give us real time health stats or phones that wraps around your wrist.

We've already seen a few different types of smart watches; some connect to your phone via Bluetooth and display incoming notifications, weather and allow you to control your phone without it ever leaving your pocket, others are simply music players that have been fixed to watch straps and worn as such. So, watches with IQs are nothing particuarly new and seeing hundreds of different variations this year would not surprise me at all.

To date, however, something we have only been able to dream of try to wrap our heads around is wearable displays. The endgame, according to Michael Liebhold, Senior researcher specializing in wearable computing at the Institute for the Future in Palo Alto, California, is for us to eventually have wirelessly connected contact lenses that display information from our mobile devices. This, of course, is just a theory and a goal set for the next decade.

Technology like that doesn't happen over night. Designers and engineers must take baby steps. One of the first companies to do just that is Vuzix. As a product of their licensing deal with Nokia, Vuzix plans to show off their latest gadget at CES this year: SMART Glasses. Masked as kind of bulky sun glasses that sit off your eyes quite a bit, the Vuzix SMART Glasses allow the user to watch movies and interact with augmented reality applications through a connected smartphone or tablet.

I'm not going to lie, these things seem pretty sweet. And I can't wait to get my paws on a demo at CES next week. But just how practical are they? What could you possibly ever use them for other than watching a movie from your phone?

First off, they're not practical at all. Well, not currently. The First Production See-Thru Augmented Reality Display, also known as STAR 1200, retails for $4999.00. Yowza. But keep in mind, this is first production, not a finished or refined product. Given some time, we can only hope the price will come down and be more affordable to end users.

Through a minute-long demonstration video of what augmented reality would be like through the glasses, we are given a glimpse into what devices such as these could really be capable of. These SMART Glasses, thought still in a rough, infant state, could blur the lines between the virtual world and reality. In the video, an animated dog and boy character are depicted bouncing and walking around on the very same desk that the wearer is resting his hand on. (Is anyone else having Space Jam or Who Framed Roger Rabbit flashbacks?)

The possibilities for this are virtually endless. From soldiers on the front lines to people sitting on their couch enjoying a movie with the family and those flying solo playing a game on their smartphone, virtual and augmented reality is the future. Being able to view this content in a more comfortable fashion than holding your phone up to your face all day is only natural progression.

That said, people are going to look a little funny walking around with SMART Glasses, just like how awkward it is to see and hear someone talking to themselves using a Bluetooth headset in public. While Vuzix did a great job with disguising their SMART Glasses as, well ... sun glasses, they're very bulky and sit pretty far from the face.

These things are cool, and so is the concept. But they just look a little goofy. I don't think I could wear or use anything like this – even a slimmer, more disguised version – outside the comfort and privacy of my own living room, if only to protect myself. I would be using them so much, I would probably forget about the real world and walk into a pole, traffic or something even more dangerous.

And that's what really worries me. We're dealing with drivers who text message behind the wheel now. But what are people going to do with SMART Glasses while they drive?

Nonetheless, I think Aaron is going to have his hands full trying to pull me away from all of the gadgets like this next week. What say you, ladies and gents? Are Vuzix's SMART Glasses the portal to true augmented reality that you've been waiting for? Could you see yourself wearing something like this in public? Would you buy these if the pricing was a bit more realistic?

Image via Vuzix