Wearable Technology: Coming Into Its Own

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Go to VisionMondaySummit.com for Summit highlights, including VM’s overview story summarizing the presentations of the day, a slide show, PDFs and videos of speaker presentations.

With six different speakers discussing at least as many smart eyewear technologies that have moved from research and into development, the Eye2 session on “Wearables” demonstrated for the Summit audience the reality of this exciting new intersection of technology and eyewear. The rapidly emerging field of wearable technology, specifically smart eyewear, was covered by a panel moderated by Vision Monday lens and technology editor Andrew Karp and consisting of speakers representing specific smart eyewear products.

Google Glass led the pack followed by other wearable technologies from Atheer, Avegant, Laforge Optical and Rochester Optical. Having just announced a partnership with Luxottica earlier in the week, and also with VSP Global earlier in the year, Google has already partnered with two of optical’s powerhouses and promises still another “very important partnership announcement,” according to Insiya Lokhandwala, business development, Google Glass.

With Glass still in the early adopter Explorer phase, she said there are three types of reactions from those first encountering the technology – 1) people who are instantly excited, 2) those who are instantly skeptical but then try them on and come around, and 3) those who just stare. “We think wearable computing will change the world,” she said. (Editor’s Note: on April 15, Google opened enrollment to its Explorers program.)

To view the Wearable Technologies video from the VM Summit, click here.

Her presentation took attendees from how it all began as a way of solving the problem of smartphone users always looking down to access information, to the first clunky contraption of wires and devices connected to glasses, to today’s sleek version of Google Glass. She then showed the recently introduced version that’s capable of accommodating prescription glasses. Day-in-the-life videos when traveling, cooking and running a business showed exactly how Google Glass is viewed by the user.

In addition to Google the corporation partnering with other companies in the eyewear space, the Google Glass technology itself integrates with other existing technologies: “Glass is not replacing your smartphone, fitness band or camera,” she said. “Instead, it enhances your experience with those products and may even be the better alternative for some cases. Glass is whatever one makes of it.”

Following Lokhandwala’s presentation of the evolution and expectations for Google Glass, a five-person panel took the stage to introduce their own smart eyewear technologies and discuss the prospects for the future of the category and how it might fit into the optical realm. As Karp moderated the group, each participant had the opportunity to participate in the discussion as well as present their own smart eyewear technologies.

Sinah Fateh, MD, EVP, Atheer Labs, showed how Atheer Glasses can present a virtual screen of information in the viewer’s line of sight and be used for medical, industrial, retail and other applications. “As a hands-free mobile device, Atheer Glasses integrate seamlessly with the existing networked devices throughout the hospital,” for use in medicine.

“Atheer Glasses can recognize equipment, pull needed information such as service manuals and repair instructions from the cloud, all while sharing the worker’s point of view with remote experts,” for industrial applications. And for retail environments, “Customers can see the product they are looking to buy virtually in front of them in 3D and to scale and interact with it in a natural way.”

 
  Andrew Karp, group editor, lenses and technology, Jobson Optical Group. Insiya Lokhandwala, business development, Google Glass.
Presenting “A premium mobile experience…without a screen,” Edward Tang, CEO and co-founder of Avegant, showed how his company’s Avegant Glyph wearable technology (virtual retinal display) projects an image from a wide variety of electronic devices directly into the user’s eye. He stressed that corrective optics customized for the user are built into the system and that the way the device looks is important to ensure that it will be worn and used at all. When worn, Avegant’s device looks just like the user is wearing headphones, tapping into the trend toward wearing them in public, until the user slides the viewer down in front of their eyes to access the viewing experience.

Corey Mack, founder, CEO and head of design for Laforge Optical took the audience on a tour of Eyewear 2.0, with examples of products that do and don’t achieve that distinction. His company’s product, Icis, achieves the status of Eyewear 2.0, he said, with its touchpad, virtual display, onboard camera, smartphone communication, folding temples and embedded prescription. One of the features that makes Icis unique, he said, was the fact that the information displayed appears from top to bottom in the viewers’ peripheral vision to both the right and left of their line of sight. Among the concerns he voiced was, “Most of the consumer electronics industry has not engaged ECPs.”

Representing Rochester Optical, which recently introduced prescription eyewear that can be attached to Google Glass, Tim Moore, founder of Venture Glass and director of digital vision for Rochester Optical, discussed “The Evolution of Digital Vision.” He predicted the easy adoption of this technology among today’s kids when they become teenagers. “Kids today, they’re not going to be afraid of this technology when they become teenagers,” he said. “They’re going to breathe it like air.”

He also forecast that ECPs will be pivotal to the integration of vision correction with smart eyewear. “For anyone who is going to be using any display, I don’t care which one it is, if they need corrected vision, guess who they’re going to come to? They’re going to come to us, and we’re going to need to provide some type of assistance. Wearable eyewear has to be fashionable, and they have to have prescription-based models in place.”

 
Sina Fateh, MD, executive vice president, Atheer Labs. Edward Tang, CEO/co-founder, Avegant. Corey Mack, CEO/head of design, Laforge Optical. Tim Moore, founder, Venture Glass, director of digital vision, Rochester Optical. Matt Alpert, OD, chairman of optometric innovations, board member, VSP Global.  
           
Matt Alpert, OD, an early adopter who has been trying out Google Glass as an “Explorer” testing the technology in his optometric practice and elsewhere, also joined the panel to discuss real-life applications of smart eyewear technologies. As chairman of optometric innovations for VSP Global, which partnered with Google Glass earlier this year, he’s intimately familiar with the technology.

Everyone had an answer when Karp asked the panel, “What are some of the barriers in terms of mainstream adoption of wearables? What’s it going to take to put it over with U.S. consumers?”

“As the applications develop, and it becomes more personal to the individual, that will help break down and make it more mainstream,” answered Alpert.

“There is a ‘we’ve got to get used to it’ phase,” replied Moore. “We’re seeing the wrist is now probably the avenue that’s going to go up to the eyewear.”

“When it comes to wearable tech, most companies driving it are electronics companies, and they’re not engaging the existing ecosystem, so for instance, smart watch companies aren’t engaging companies like Timex or Rolex,” observed Mack.

“Now, we are all limited by the physical size of our display; just imagine a projector as really small and the size of the screen and the content is huge,” said Fateh.

“So many companies are focused on the technology, the application, what are the cool things that you can do with it, but ultimately, if it’s not fashionable, if it’s not wearable, if people aren’t willing to wear it, then that’s the biggest barrier,” Tang warned.

jsailer@jobson.com