Transparency

The view from Inside Epson's Moverio smart glasses program

What the Oculus VR Acquisition Means for Smart Glasses

The tech world was buzzing over Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR a few weeks ago, especially among those interested in the smart glasses industry.

First, my congratulations go out to my friends at Oculus. They’ve built a tremendous platform and have managed the company very well to get where they are today.

For Epson and its development partners and customers, news of the acquisition has created a lot of excitement. Countless developers and companies have asked me about the Oculus acquisition and how our technology compares to theirs and Google Glass. I think the buzz is giving people a framework for how to think about the industry, and is bringing additional insight and clarity to the space. For Epson, that means people are gaining a better understanding of the Moverio BT-200 platform’s strength in augmented reality.

What many people haven’t realized yet is that specific use cases are determined by how each platform is built. For instance, Google Glass has a singular/monocular, transparent “look up” display, which is great for social media notifications, transcribing data, and taking photos and videos, but is not necessarily the best platform for AR overlays or VR gaming.

The Oculus Rift platform, on the other hand, is binocular and opaque, meaning that the user is completely immersed in the digitally created VR content, and cannot see or interact with the real-world.

Epson’s Moverio BT-200 smart glasses are binocular and transparent, allowing users to see and interact with digital content and their real-world surroundings. With the Moverio BT-200, content is at the center of the user’s field of view. Because the content is transparent, users can project 3D overlays on top of real objects, enabling an endless number of augmented reality app development opportunities. Some of the best early use cases are being found in logistics, training, wellness, education and consumer gaming.

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The acquisition is a validation ($2 billion dollars’ worth!) that VR and AR platforms will play a major role in the future of computing. While Oculus is strictly a VR play, the potential for additional innovative technologies is evident, with Zuckerberg himself mentioning AR during his conference call with Facebook investors. I believe the acquisition will inspire even more developers outside of gaming to explore the exciting possibilities of VR and AR smart glasses.

You’re so Vein

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When we announced the Moverio BT-200 smart glasses at CES this year, we got all sorts of reactions–some of them listed in the comments of CNET’s YouTube video Epson’s Moverio BT-200 Smart Glasses deliver Andriod Apps in Augmented Reality.

  • “Stupid.”
  • “pointless”
  • “LOL, hysterical :) Who would wear this… Unbelievable”
  • “My goodness that thing looks so dumb”
  • “Why do they even bother making this stuff”

I totally get it. Moverio is an early augmented reality development platform, and without the context of a real-life application, the glasses might look silly. But, what about applications where looking stylish is secondary to functionality?

For example, have you ever had an intravenous injection? If so, did the nurse stick you more than once while trying to find a vein? Three times? More? What if the nurse was wearing a device that highlighted exactly where veins were located, helping to guide the needle to hit its mark the first time? Would you care how the nurse looked?

Evena Medical has developed an application that does exactly that. Using the Moverio platform, the Evena has created a wearable device to fulfill the following mantra: “One nurse, one stick, in one minute.”

At first glance, new wearable technologies may look strange, but put into the context of a useful application, it may not matter.

Check out the demo that Evena Medical gave at our booth at CES 2014.

Photo Credit: Library of Congress

A Tale of Two Displays

Two years ago, Epson released the Moverio BT-100, our first wearable display system. We released it and have been working with developers ever since. And they had lots to say:

• They wanted a front facing camera.
• They felt it was too bulky and wanted it smaller and lighter.
• They didn’t want a daughter card to be required to get video out.
• And they wanted motion sensors.

So, we listened and built the Moverio BT-200

Here’s a quick comparison of the two products:

the_two_moverios

Black Is the New Clear

First coined by our good friend and smart glasses app developer extraordinaire Sean McCracken as he was checking out the Moverio BT-100, “black is the new clear” has become our favorite new catchphrase.

Why? It’s counter-intuitive – how can anything black be clear? But it’s useful in explaining how Android app developers can optimize their augmented reality content for the Moverio smart glasses.

Having a black or transparent background is our first, and most important, recommendation for customizing your content for the Moverio platform. This concept may not be as critical for “look-up” smart glass displays that sit outside your field of view. However, because the Moverio display is centered in your field of view, it’s important that you remove and minimize any visual elements that don’t contribute to the overall experience.

By rendering backgrounds in black, developers can seamlessly blend the real and digital worlds to create a powerful, immersive experience on the Moverio smart glasses. It sets them free to invent all sorts of useful and/or entertaining apps that integrate the environment around you.

A common practice of most phone/tablet developers is to fill every speck of background with color and design. With smart glasses, however, developers have to look at their content differently. A good example of what is possible comes from our partner APX labs in the following video. They attached motion sensors onto the smart glasses which allowed them to create a 360 degree canvas where you can digitally overlay almost anything onto the user’s view of the real environment. Watch the video and notice how content is cleverly out of the way until the user decides to request more details.

When we launched Moverio over 18 months ago, we released a video showing all of its possibilities in science, education, gaming, architecture and more. Since then, we’ve been able to work with developers to actually bring some of these ideas to life. We’ve also heard their feedback and are incorporating many of their ideas into our next-generation products. We appreciate their input and can’t wait to see what the next year brings.

Costs/Benefits of a Hackathon

Epson hosted its first hackathon at our Long Beach headquarters on August 24th & 25th. We, in partnership with Metaio GmbHinvited developers to come up with killer augmented reality application ideas for our Moverio smart glasses.

The “See Smarter: Moverio Glasses Hackathon” drew a strong turnout of both veteran and up-and-coming developers looking to put both their knowledge and creativity to the test.

All things considered, the hackathon was a success. We loved the applications that our participants came up with–such as racing against your own, virtual 3D avatar in a real-world foot race, or creating a haunted house with virtual ghosts and ghouls springing from around various corners.

The benefits also exceeded our expectations. In addition to interesting augmented realty apps, we connected with the local technology community, made promising new business contacts, and even drew the attention of local mediaAnd we had a lot of fun.  

I’d also like to send a huge thanks to Michael Leyva, our UCLA MBA summer intern, for running the show!

Ever wonder what it takes to run a hackathon? Click on the image below for a complete infographic breakdown.

 

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