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  • For years the tech world has been fantasizing about replacing your phone with a pair of electronic glasses.

  • You might remember the hype around Google Glass back in 2013.

  • But you might also remember that people weren't exactly thrilled by the idea.

  • In fact, they were pretty creeped out.

  • And a lot of people today, think of Glass as a failed experiment.

  • But Google didn't actually give up on Glass.

  • In fact, earlier this year, it's parent company Alphabet announced a revamp Glass headset and said it was no longer in experiment at all.

  • It's now a full fledged product.

  • Meanwhile, Facebook and Apple are interested in building augmented reality glasses.

  • And AR start-ups like Magic Leap are getting huge investments.

  • So why don't you see people wearing them on the street?

  • Well, the reality of AR is a lot more nuance than the fantasy.

  • To see where these smart glasses live in the real world, we need to look at the big picture.

  • The term AR glasses or AR headsets usually means something that overlays images onto the real world.

  • As opposed to virtual reality, which completely changes what you're seeing.

  • On one end of the spectrum, you're got products like Microsoft HoloLens which produce detailed 3D objects that look like they're actually sitting in real space.

  • These incorporate tracking cameras and advanced optics tech, but they're often bulky and expensive.

  • On the other, you've got simpler devices like Google Glass, which can look much more like normal glasses, but often just provide a flat visual overlay.

  • And some products split the difference ending up looking like bulky sunglasses.

  • Tech companies and pop culture spend a lot of time speculating about how AR glasses will change everyday life.

  • You could replace your TV with a virtual screen, for instance.

  • Or hang out with a holographic friend in your living room.

  • Or see your entire world covered by invasive dystopian advertising.

  • But whether you thing these ideas are cool or creepy, they've all got one thing in common.

  • They still haven't happened.

  • So why did Google announce a new Glass?

  • And while we're at it, why is the US Army giving Microsoft 480 million dollars for Hololens headsets?

  • It's 2019 and we keep hearing about AR, but we don't see these glasses on the street.

  • There are some pretty obvious reasons to not wear AR glasses everywhere.

  • A lot of the options are uncomfortable or expensive.

  • And most of them have a limited field of view, so they're more like looking through a window, then, totally changing your view of the world.

  • AR glasses with cameras could enable a kind of nearly invisible surveillance, especially when you add a technology like facial recognition.

  • And things that block your eyes are often just fundamentally alienating to other people.

  • So most AR companies don't think of glasses as the new smart phone, at least not yet.

  • They're content with smaller sales and they're focusing on specific contexts where there're very clear benefits that outweigh the costs.

  • Microsoft, for example, only sold around 50 thousand Hololens headsets in it's first two years.

  • And it's said, it's happy with these levels.

  • These days Alphabet isn't trying to sell glass headsets like pixel phones or smart speakers.

  • It calls headsets enterprise editions, instead of the explorer edition it used to pitch as a prototype for consumers.

  • Industrial work is probably commercial AR's biggest market.

  • In fact the term "augmented reality" usually gets credited to a scientist at Boeing named Thomas Caudell.

  • In the early 90's Caudell prototyped a heads-up, see-through, head-mounted display that would let factory employees get information about aircraft overlaid on the actual planes.

  • They could see important points marked on the body, or read documentation about the planes incredibly complex wire harnesses.

  • The idea didn't pan out then, but Boeing started experimenting with Google Glass to help with harness wiring a couple of decades later.

  • Boeing announced an official AR glasses test on it's factory floor last year.

  • Companies like Ussex have also been selling AR glasses to these markets.

  • The military is another big AR market.

  • It's been involved in AR for decades.

  • The 80's Air Force super cockpit program built fighter pilot heads-up displays into some really bulky helmets.

  • In 2018 Microsoft got that 480 million dollar contract with the US Army which could get up to a hundred thousand HoloLens headsets, both for training and for giving soldiers a heads-up display in live combat.

  • Marines have already used the headsets for training simulations.

  • Unlike with consumer AR glasses, these are situations where people are already used to surveillance and bulky specialized equipment.

  • You don't have to convince a bunch of individual users to each spring for a headset.

  • And the hardware's used for specific task where companies can measure their effectiveness.

  • The same goes for other places where AR is used, including surgeon's operating rooms and research institutions.

  • But some companies have been trying to bridge the gap.

  • The National Theatre in London uses EPSON MOVERIO glasses for closed captioning.

  • If you're hard of hearing you can still see what the actors are saying.

  • Now we're talking about using AR headsets for fun.

  • But it's still limited to a specific place and a specific use that doesn't make other people uncomfortable.

  • Also, it's the theater so no body should be looking at you anyway.

  • When companies try to build all purpose mass headsets, things get dicier.

  • Intel and North both designed sleek, relatively cheap glasses for smart watch style notifications.

  • But Intel decided that there wasn't a big enough market for it's product right now.

  • And North also faced lay-offs earlier this year, although it's still been rolling out new features.

  • Microsoft used to show-off consumer HoloLens apps, but these days it's almost totally focused on professionals.

  • There's one big outlier.

  • AR start-up Magic Leap, which has gotten more than two billion dollars in funding and focuses on mass market entertainment.

  • We've seen Magic Leap One goggles in art installations.

  • And it's hiring developers to make cool apps and games.

  • But we're still waiting to see if Magic Leap has a sustainable business model.

  • Do people want to wear AR glasses all the time?

  • Right now the answer is still a clear, no.

  • But are people wearing them?

  • Absolutely, if you know where to look.

  • Hey, thanks for watching.

  • And if you want to see how a company is designing a new AR headset in 2019, check out our video on Microsoft's HoloLens Two.

  • And remember, like and subscribe.

For years the tech world has been fantasizing about replacing your phone with a pair of electronic glasses.

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It's 2019. Where are our smart glasses?!

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    Estelle posted on 2019/11/25
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