Last Friday, I saw the future.
More accurately, I looked through it. A pair of smart glasses sat perched on my nose, and before me lay all sorts of information — maps, power, heart rate, gradient, elevation, speed, distance — all projected on the inside of the lens. It was fascinating.
The glasses in question, made by a small startup arm of the company that makes 90 percent of the world’s fighter pilot helmets, is not the first, nor will it be the last, to try to bring smart glasses to market. The idea is appealing: all the information you need right in front of your eyes all the time. No messing with a phone, no need to even look down at a cycling computer. Just ride. Simplicity brought to everyday tasks via very complicated technology.
The smart glasses, made by Everysight, will soon join Recon and a third option from a company called Kopin, announced Tuesday morning at Interbike. By spring, consumers will have three different brands vying for the market (and make no mistake, there is a market).
The question, as the technology matures, is one of execution: How to bring information to users when it’s wanted, without being distracting, without too much extra weight, without causing the wearer to look like some sort of cyborg. Wearable tech works when it looks and feels like the analog technology it’s replacing — the Apple Watch looks and wears like a watch — while adding functionality. This is one reason why Google Glass failed, even with all of that company’s development power. Whoever can get closest to a regular pair of glasses is likely to dominate.
On Tuesday, Kopin, a developer of wearable tech for both the military and consumers, announced what it says is the smallest, lightest pair of smart glasses in the world.
Called the Solos, the glasses look like a pair of Smith Pivlocks with a small, Google Glass-like antennae called Vista sticking out over the right eyebrow. The 4mm tall stalk casts a 5-inch virtual screen with bright, full-color, high-resolution graphics.
The Solos will talk to your smartphone, as all three options will, and has a form factor that won’t make cyclists balk. The tech is housed inside the arms of the glasses, but the whole package is quite svelte. The Vista display is adjustable.
In cycling, Recon was the first to bring a road-worthy product to market. The Jet, first teased three years ago and released last year, uses a similar design to the Solos, placing a small screen in the bottom right corner of one’s vision. Like the Solos, the Jet features ANT+ connectivity, a camera, and easy navigation with swipes of the glasses’ right arm.
Recon was recently purchased by Intel, and is bolstered by the financial and development might that purchase implies. It also just dropped the price of the Jet from $700 to $500 — less than the cost of a Garmin 1000 computer.
Recon’s primary limitation now is its form factor. The Jet screen is a bit clunky and obstructs some peripheral vision. When it was the only game in town, this was a mild inconvenience; with two new competitors, it could send consumers elsewhere.
Which brings us to Everysight, which let me see the future last Friday. Sadly for readers, VeloNews was asked to respect a broad embargo on specifics of the new device until mid-winter. But the important points can be put to print: unlike both Recon and Kopin, the Everysight glasses place the “screen” on the inside of the lens itself. The result is a true heads-up display, with numbers and maps floating out in space, at the same focal distance as the rest of the road. It’s phenomenal technology, and form factor is quite good as well (that’s my mug in the photo above wearing a prototype. They’ll get even smaller, the company says).
Wearable technology has been slow to come to cycling. Perhaps it’s our sport’s traditional bent, which seems to be particularly strong at the moment. Or perhaps it’s because we can already get plenty of data, if we want it, via GPS, power meters, and heart rate monitors. But slow movement is still movement. We will see smart glasses gain traction, and soon. The only question is what they’ll look like, and how they’ll work.