One of the first consumer smart glasses to hit the market
At CES, the consumer electronics industry’s biggest annual trade show, scores of products tend to get hyped up and unveiled, only to disappear when it comes to time to either ship them or show off a new version at next year’s show. That does not appear to be the case for Vuzix, a Rochester, New York-based augmented reality and smart glasses company that says it’s now taking orders for its Blade AR glasses.
The device was unveiled in its most recent form — Vuzix has been working on this technology for years, in various capacities— at CES 2018. We covered that device, a pre-production version of what will now ship to consumers, as a solid, though clearly first-generation version, of what Google Glass once promised. The glasses essentially float a miniature display in the right lens of a pair of bulky sunglasses using what’s known as waveguide technology, which is effectively the same type of display projection technique used in the Magic Leap One headset. Companies tend to dress up the name; Magic Leap calls its waveguide package a “photonics” chip, while Vuzix refers to its own as the “Cobra Display Engine.”
However, as opposed to something like Magic Leap or Microsoft’s HoloLens, both of which create virtual images that both interact with the real world and can be modified in real time by the user, the Blade is much more focused on being an accessory to a phone instead of a full-fledged and immersive AR device. It projects a semi-transparent and much smaller rectangular screen, one that’s more of a heads-up display for mirroring phone notifications and running low-key apps. It is essentially doing what Google Glass once did, but with a higher resolution, full color display that has a more generous field of view. The whole package is also in a much more palatable design than Google’s ill-fated wearable.
So how does it qualify as AR? Well, Vuzix and potential third-party app developers can decide to use the visual feed from the glasses to augment what the user is seeing. Right now, there’s no concrete AR taking place, but down the line there certainly could be some features added like facial recognition or augmentation of the live camera feed for the device’s existing photo and video capabilities. The company has also published some demos online that show off how it could be used to run 3D simulation apps similar to those you’d see running on a Magic Leap One or HoloLens.
Vuzix has been shipping out developer units for the past 12 months, but now it says it has a consumer version ready for sale. The price is steep at $999. But the company says there’s a number of new benefits, including support for Google Assistant in addition to Amazon’s Alexa. It’s also working with some streaming video providers that it cannot disclose at the moment to bring on-demand video to the glasses, though long-term TV or movie viewing sessions on the device aren’t likely going to be how one uses the Blade primarily. (The Verge has a pair of the consumer Blade glasses to try, and we plan on reviewing the gadget for later this month.)
Vuzix imagines the glasses will work similar to a smartwatch, in that it keeps you from pulling your phone out and getting lost in a sea of apps and social networks. We’ll have to spend a bit more time with the device to see exactly how that theory works it practice.