Google’s Contact — or “EyeGoogle,” as I’m calling it — isn’t the Silicon Valley giant’s first foray into wearable face-computing: Google Glass, the company’s head-mounted smartphone assistant, is slated for a wide release in 2014; nor is Google the only technology company working hard to get you to stick a computer in front of your eyes in the coming years.
Here are the most important companies working on wearable facial computers. If any of these companies have their way, we’ll all have little screens plastered on our noggins by New Year’s 2015. These are the ones you should keep an eye out for.
1. GoogleIn the past year, Google has certainly established itself as the company people most associate with whimsical, futuristic face computers, with its forthcoming Google Glass and still-several-years-away smart contact lens.
Important to note: Though glasses and contact lenses perform similar functions in normal life, Google Glass and Google Contact Lens do not. Google Glass is what you might consider a more traditional wearable computer (if such a thing exists): It simply performs several of your smartphone’s functions on a small screen in front of your eye — showing you text messages, the time and weather, walking directions — so that you don’t have to pull your phone out of your pocket. Google’s contact lenses, meanwhile, has a more specialized function: Intended for diabetics, it measures your body’s glucose level in the eye so that you wouldn’t have to prick yourself for a blood sample several times per day.
With contact lenses and eyeglasses covered, it’s only a matter of time before Google introduces computerized binoculars, opera glasses and monocles. Stay tuned
2. Oculus VRFor decades now, playing video games at home has usually meant staring at a screen — either several feet away from your eyes, with video game consoles, or about a foot away from your eyes, with computer games.
The Oculus Rift, created by a startup called Oculus VR, is a buzzy new system that brings the screen right up against your face. Still in prototype mode, the Rift itself is a sort of visor that completely blocks out your vision, except for a high-definition screen in front of your eyes that hooks up to a computer game. Your point-of-view is your game character’s point-of-view; and the system also tracks your head movements, so that wherever you look, that’s where your character in the game looks, too.
It’s all very disorienting and immersive and lifelike, and it’s earned rave reviews from early testers. A consumer version that you can actually buy is on its way, perhaps this year, so that you, too, can look ridiculous while image
3. VuzixPerhaps Google’s stiffest competition for Google Glass (for now), Vuzix specializes in wearable, glasses-like computers of various shapes and sizes, mostly aimed at professionals. Vuzix’s bread-and-butter is industrial smart glasses, meant for anyone from doctors to firefighters to construction workers, to allow those workers to view information in front of their eyes without having to reference other materials not in their eyeline. (The Motorola-owned Golden-i performs a similar task.)
Recently — especially with the surprise interest surrounding Google Glass — Vuzix has made strides toward creating consumer models of its smart glasses, too, showing off a more fashionable design for its M100 model, with HD cameras and Bluetooth smartphone connections at this January’s Consumer Electronics Show.
4. GlassUpSpeaking of competition for Google Glass: GlassUp launched on the crowdfuding startup Indiegogo, seeking $150,000 to build a Glass alternative that displays all of the notifications from your smartphone onto a small display in front of your eye. If that sounds familiar, GlassUp differentiates itself from Google Glass in its design: GlassUp looks more like a regular pair of glasses than does the Star Trek-ish Google version.
GlassUp missed out on its fundraising goal by about $25,000, but the Italian company is soldiering ahead. It is now accepting preorders (in $300 cash, or in bitcoins) with an expected delivery date of June 2014.
5. OakleyYes, that Oakley: The sunglasses manufacturer has gotten into the smartglasses game, producing a range of high-tech skiing goggles that display your speed, altitude and navigation, as well as text messages and music coming from your smartphone. You’re probably not going to wear these high-tech ski goggles every day; but the fact that a consumer-focused company like Oakley is dipping its toes into the smart-glasses water may be a sign that wearable face computers might be preparing to enter the mainstream.
Despite the hype, head-mounted computers haven’t quite entered public acceptance in the way that, say, smartphones or Bluetooth headsets have. Google has heavily promoted its own version, but no other major technology companies have begun to push — or in many cases, even demonstrate — their own versions quite yet.
But with Microsoft, Samsung and Apple all rumored to have Google Glass competitors in the works, you might be heading to Lenscrafter for a quick charge of your glasses before long. The future’s so bright, you might be wearing electronic shades.