Forget Google Glass - these glasses may help workers be more productive

Adding augmented reality to glasses could provide boon for field-service and training

Epson Virtual reality system

Google's Project Glass continues to garner big headlines - the company recently shipped its Explorer Editions to those "Explorers" who ponied up $1,500 for the right to try them out and we've seen a few of their results over the past few weeks.

But a company that has been quieter about their own transparent glasses project is Epson, which has had its Moverio BT-100 glasses out for about a year. Since launching, the company has been working with developers on creating a system that is more beneficial to business users, rather than the consumer market. While Epson has a very consumer-oriented product with its BT-100 (aiming the $700 glasses at folks who want to listen to music or watch movies virtually), the company is also courting developers to create more serious apps for the system.

One such developer, Scope Technologies, has merged its augmented reality software with the glasses (by also adding a Webcam to the Moverio system) to show how they could be used in training scenarios for field-service workers or other maintenance technicians. In the following video, Scope shows how its software can do a virtual overlay animation over the real-life pump, which helps a technician repair and remove parts safely.

The add-on webcam captures the real-life image (with the help of a marker on the device), and translates that information to the Moverio glasses, Scope says. Software on the glasses then provides the visual overlay information (with animations and graphics) to the glasses, which then show up in the user's display when wearing the glasses.

The Scope demo is quite impressive - augmented reality for the most part has been done through mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. Scott Montgomerie, CEO and lead developer for Scope Technologies, has said many of the projects have been marketing gimmicks, like pointing your phone at a beverage label or movie poster to see a quick animation or movie clip. By adding AR to the virtual glasses, Scope is hoping to create training apps and in-field projects that are more serious and compelling.

Eric Mizufuka, a product manager for the Epson Moverio team, says developers are working on creating additional hardware and software for the glasses that can open up even more markets. For example, they've seen apps that utilize motion sensors, night vision cameras (for search and rescue scenarios), gesture control and even eyeball gaze-tracking for navigating through menu screens. "We're crowdsourcing the product development process," Mizufuka says, allowing developers to create products that benefit specific business usage.

In another example, Mizufuka stated a scenario where the glasses could be used in a remote setting - having a junior-level engineer wear the glasses and then report back to a senior-level person in another location - the glasses could utilize its Wi-Fi connection or a developer could create a 3G/4G option - the senior-level engineer could assist with the maintenance / repair. What's interesting is that Epson appears to be fine with developers not only developing software for the Moverio glasses, but also with adding additional hardware components (such as the cameras, sensors and communication tools). Although Mizufuka admits that his biggest challenge now is pushing his team to come up with the next-generation model of the Moverio. 

These demos also show that the market for head-mounted displays and other virtual reality type systems is advancing beyond the cute and gimmicky. With Google's Project Glass, the Oculus Rift Virtual Reality gaming system (another favorite of mine), and devices from Vuzix and Oakley, there's a lot of buzz around this new market that may take our minds away from wondering what the new iPhone looks like (or, shudder -- any new smart watches). The best part is that Epson seems to be looking beyond the gimmicky and focusing on how these can benefit workers beyond just giving them notifications or email updates.

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