It'll be small development companies like Sphero that turn wearable computing products like Vuzix's headset mounted smart phone video display into genuine augmented reality (AR) devices.
The Boulder, Colorado based company already has a neat gizmo on the market. It's a white plastic sphere about the size of a tennis ball that glows in different colors and rolls around on the floor, powered by an internal motor. You control it with an iOS or Android app via a Bluetooth link.
It scoots back and forth and around and around. There are games written for it, or you can race with your friends.
It's a blast to play with. Their booth at CES last week was packed with people waiting their turn to give it a try. It's definitely a toy. But it has a potentially serious side.
One of the apps written for it lets you steer it while pointing a tablet's camera at it and watching it on screen. Fun enough. But the app superimposes an animated figure over the white ball, so viewed on the screen it looks like a cartoon character is walking around the room and interacting with people.
Potential applications include video production – you could make your own live action Roadrunner cartoon – and telepresence.
Sphero has been around about a year. Its current product retails for $129 and software developer kits are available. On board sensors include an accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetic reed switch. Battery charging is via induction, keeping the outside smooth.
An augmented reality (AR) product showed promise at last week's CES. Vuzix was showing its boom-mounted smart phone display. It's not light enough yet to mount on a pair of regular eyeglasses, but with a dedicated headset it's comfortably wearable.
The video display is small, but it's always in front of you and at most requires a brief glance to read. Right now AR apps require you to hold a smart phone up in front of you to see a data overlay on reality – the names of streets, say, or product information in stores. The Vuzix headset lets you do that hands free.
Right now, its battery life is limited. It's just in the prototype stage, so tests haven't been completed, but the units on display at CES were said to last about three hours on one charge with everything running at once: video camera and WiFi, Bluetooth and GPS radios.
Even without a link to a smart phone it's pretty capable. Its TI OMAP 4 processor running Android 4.1 puts it in roughly the same class as a Samsung Galaxy 2, without the mobile telecoms capability.
It's expected to ship in the second half of this year at a price point in the $500 range. A software developer kit – an emulator application that runs on Windows – is available now.
The headset is just the first stop on the Vuzix AR roadmap. They have a mock-up of a pair of glasses that they hope to have working by CES next year. Similar to the Google Glass concept, it would provide a full field-of-view data AR overlay.
That's the point when AR starts to move from a novelty and, at best, occasional convenience to being a full time, commonplace tool. It'll take a while to develop to that point. Developers will need time with working units to come up with truly useful apps and then consumers will have to embrace that utility. But by CES 2015 or 16, you'll be able to see the world through data-enhanced eyes.
The first breakout augmented reality product for the consumer market could be LCi ‘s (Limitless Computing Inc.) SightSpace platform, which was demoed at the ShowStoppers event last night at CES.
It’s easy enough to use, does what it says it will do and has a direct path to major marketing support and revenue from mainstream brands.
SightSpace lets you preview how new furniture or a kitchen remodel or just a fresh coat of paint will look in your home. To use it now, you take an iPad or compatible Android tablet, surf to Google 3D Warehouse, download a 3D drawing of, say, a chair into the SightSpace app, then point the tablet’s camera at the corner where you’re thinking about putting it.
The picture of the chair is overlaid on the live video image of your living room. It’s 3D, so you can walk around and see how it looks from different angles. They even have a stereoscopic feature, so you can put on 3D glasses for an optional pop-out effect.
It’s a ready-made marketing tool for online retailers, one that could give them a substantial advantage over brick and mortar competitors. Shoppers could download directly from the retailer’s website and instantly see whether a product matches up with the space or the person intended.
There’s little risk. The product and design renderings retailers need to create would be in a format used by Google’s free SketchUp application, Google Earth and Google 3D Warehouse and convertible to other file formats.
It opens the door to mass market partnerships for LCi, with substantial revenue streams. And augmented reality overlays on rooms, buildings and land are just the beginning. It could also enable online shoppers to try on clothes, sample a travel package or even have some fun with online dating. The only limit – financial or otherwise – for Limitless Computing’s SightSpace is imagination.