The core of mobile learning is providing relevant information to users at the point of need.
To that end, augmented reality (AR) devices provide the perfect method to display information to the workforce when and where it is needed most.
“AR technologies can take any situation, location, environment, or experience to a new level of meaning and understanding.”
Float is one of the first companies to explore how AR can be best used to augment employees in an increasingly connected and data-centric world.
In this article, we’re going to share what we’ve learned from hands-on experience with three of the pre-eminent devices available today.
The oft-ridiculed Google Glass was the first augmented-reality device that broke into the mainstream.
The attitude for Glass was largely shaped by privacy concerns, as the device had a camera which could easily be recording without others’ knowledge.
While Glass certainly pushed the discussion about smart glasses to the forefront, it was not perceived as an especially valuable proposition, and the beta testing program known as Explorer was shut down this past January.
However, the device did find some useful applications at the enterprise and public service level. The concept is certainly not dead within Google, as the Glass development team has graduated from Google[x] (Google’s internal research organization) to its own dedicated team.
In our own tests, we found Glass to be promising but functionally limited.
The device has a monocle design which provides a single 360p display in the upper-right area of a user’s vision.
While simple notifications could be provided in this region (for example, new emails and text messages), there’s simply not enough real estate to provide those “in the field” with relevant, contextual information that can help them make good decisions.
Glass combines a swipeable surface on the right side with voice commands for input, which is generally good enough for simple interactions but makes precise interaction problematic.
The second-generation Epson Moverio opts for a more full-screen experience than Glass, essentially displaying a 540p display in the center of the viewer’s vision.
Moverio uses the Android operating system that is standard on many smartphones, providing an easy way for mobile developers to get started developing AR applications.
Rather than the swipeable surface on the side of Glass, the Moverio opts for a connected touchscreen to provide input in a way that is familiar to anyone that has used a smartphone.
The Moverio has a built-in camera, but due largely to its rarity, has yet to develop the same level of consumer backlash.
While the external interface is a bit awkward to use, and the glasses themselves are a bit bulky, the visual provided to the wearer is quite surprising.
The user is treated to what is essentially a large and functional OS directly in their field of vision, and it looks quite nice, despite the relatively low resolution for a modern Android device.
Comparing this to the tiny screen displayed by the Glass marks a stark difference in approach.
While the sense of presence is markedly improved over Glass, the latency present in the relatively low-powered device can lead to motion sickness while playing immersive games such as Moverio-specific Sky Temple.
However, for applications that don’t require precise motion tracking, the Moverio provides a great, cost-effective experience.
Osterhout Design Group (ODG) R-6
The ODG R-6 is arguably the cutting edge of smart glasses on the market today.
Boasting an impressive 720p display, 720p camera, and top-mounted touchpad, the R-6 is intended for heavy-duty, industrial applications, with a consumer model on the horizon.
Similar to the Moverio, the R-6 uses Android, but it’s a custom version of the operating system titled ReticleOS.
Rather than the grid-based format in which apps are usually displayed, ReticleOS offers a horizontal series of icons which works naturally with the swipe motions detected by the touchpad, which doubles as a click interface.
There’s also an accompanying ring that offers the same touch interface in a more readily accessible location.
There’s no doubt that the R-6 is the most powerful smart glasses device on the market today, with a 1.5Ghz dual-core processor (as compared to the 1.2Ghz dual-core processor in the Moverio, or the 1Ghz or less processor in the Glass).
However, ReticleOS seems to be a performance hog, which is a problem faced by other customized distributions of Android.
As a result, applications which should perform quite well stutter, increasing latency and leading to a negative impact on the user.
While this is an issue for more immersive applications like games, it’s less likely to be a factor for heads-up displays (HUDs) of the sort usually desired for enterprise applications.
One other problem is heat generation: the R-6 gets uncomfortably hot during periods of extended use, but better power management could resolve this in the long term. In fact, ODG already plans to release an improved model this year, the R-6S, which will hopefully address heat issues.
These are not the only devices on the market today – other readily available smart glasses include the Recon Jet and Vuzix M100, among others – but we felt that these three devices warranted investigation for our development of next-generation learning applications.
Having tried all three, we’re most interested in the potential of the R-6 (provided that the aforementioned issues can be resolved) but mostly test on the Moverio.
Of course, as all three support Android, we largely test on tablets and smartphones before deploying to glasses for field testing.
Nonetheless, all three devices have unique benefits and drawbacks, and all three provide a glimpse at the future of mobile computing.
Following this review of the three pieces of hardware, next week I’ll next be addressing potential applications for using smart glasses to improve employee performance.
Want to know more about how smart glasses can help augment your workforce? Just want to chat about wearable technology? Contact us! Also, stay tuned for more posts about augmented reality in the weeks to come.
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