6 Google Glass Alternatives

Bring on the Google Glass competitors. Companies scramble to be the first to market.

Sure there are plenty of non-Google Glass believers who take pleasure in deriding those who dare to wear Google's Internet-connected glasses. But don't tell that to following six companies that see a future where smart eyewear is as ubiquitous as smartphones.

What follows are top contenders to Google Glass. Some go on sale this summer, while others - I'd bet - won't make it out of the labs. 

Tom Spring writes ITworld's Planet Google blog.

Hoping to beat Google to market is Recon Instruments with its Jet headset aimed at geeky athletes. The rugged eyewear features a heads-up display with a tiny monitor at the bottom of your field of vision. It runs the Android 4.2 OS, sports a dual-core processor, hi-def camera, WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and GPS and movement sensors. Once outfitted you can capture video or measure distance traveled and share it all on the Internet. Recon hopes to ship Jet in 2013, but hasn't nailed down pricing.

Then there is Vuzix and its M100 glasses, an impressive Google Glass knockoff. The M100 headwear is a hands-free "smartphone display and communications system." It's equipped with GPS, has a built in hi-def camera, and is optimized to be tethered wirelessly to an Android or iOS smartphone. The Vuzix M100 can also juggle apps that include texting, video, e-mail, mapping, and audio. Paul Travers, Vuzix's CEO, says the M100 is "ready for full-scale launch this summer."  Vuzix's M100 has a two hour battery life with the display turned on, but half that with the camera and display both on. Pricing is unknown.

The company Lumus is taking a slightly different approach to augmented reality glasses than Google. Where Glass has a display for one eye (monocular), Lumus is taking a binocular approach with its eyewear. It overlays information across your entire field of vision giving you a less skewed viewing experience. The Lumus prototype allows you to e-mail, swap text messages, or surf the Internet. The company says it's in talks to license its technology to a third party.

You could call Vergence Labs' Epiphany Eyewear the 007 of smart glasses. That's because these glasses look fashionable (relative to Google Glass) and contain a sneaky embedded camera for capturing 720p video and snapping pictures. You can store video to Epiphany's onboard storage or choose to stream video over the Internet with the help of a nearby smartphone. One big omission with this eyewear is any type of display. The glasses sell for $300 for 8GB of storage and $500 for 32GB. You can pre-orders a pair now with units shipping this summer. 

Google might have to take a back seat to the Japanese startup Telepathy that has developed a sleek and attractive alternative to Glass called Telepathy One. This Internet connected eyewear creates a virtual 5-inch display that superimposes video and computer images in front of you (see the video). It also has a camera for capturing video and images. Telepathy One wirelessly tethers to your smartphone via Bluetooth giving you access to music, videos, and social media. The company's founder Takahito Iguchi said the eyewear is in its "baby stages." No word on pricing, but Iguchi has said the Telepathy might go on sale end of 2013.

Camera king Olympus is also working on augmented reality glasses called MEG4.0 that connect to your tablet or phone via Bluetooth. The current version of the glasses, which are still being tested, are stem-like and appear to clip onto the side of glasses. The MEG4.0 projects a virtual 320x240 screen above your eye, just like Google Glass. Olympus is playing its cards close to its chest and won't reveal what type of data access is viewable with the glasses. You guessed it, Olympus declined to say anything about pricing and availability.

Right now the bloom is on augmented reality smart glasses. By 2016 there could be as many as 10 million smart glasses sold worldwide, according to IMS Research. Consensus is smart headgear will be a boon to not only fitness nerds and gamers, but especially so to industries such as health, safety, engineering, and manufacturing. On the left is a mock up by Omer Haciomeroglu of a C-Thru Smoke Diving Helmet that could someday let firefighters see clearly through a smoke-filled buildings. On the left is a Vuzix's augmented reality flip-down eyepiece being developed under the Land Warrior program that would give soldiers instant access to maps and tactical information.

Image credit: Omer Haciomeroglu (L) Vuzix (R)

You can thank (or blame) Google for creating the race among high-tech headgear makers vying to augment our reality and tether us to the Internet via eyewear. Today only developers have early access to the Glass Explorer Edition headsets. Google says consumers will have to wait until 2014. The good news is you'll have smart eyewear options before then.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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