A look through a pair of futuristic eyeglasses reveals a fantasy world. Or is it real? Reach out, press a button — a hologram, in fact — floating in thin air. Suddenly, a nearby lamp switches on until the virtual button is pushed again to turn it off.
The eyeglasses, created by Meta, a Silicon Valley start-up, are among a growing list of rivals to Google Glass. The goal is to build tiny computer screens that people wear on their heads so they can read messages, get directions and take photos without having to take out their smartphones.
Meta’s ambitions go a bit further than most, however. If all goes as planned, people wearing its smart glasses will live in a sort of augmented reality filled with 3-D images they can touch, grab and share with others.
“I’ve always had a passion for making computing more natural,” said Meron Gribetz, Meta’s chief executive.
Companies hoping to sell smart glasses must also overcome increasing privacy concerns. Many people are worried about being surreptitiously recorded or photographed in public. A handful of bars and restaurants have gone so far as to bar customers from wearing smart glasses. There’s already an unflattering nickname for people who wear the devices, “glassholes,” showing just how much work lies ahead in rehabilitating the nascent technology’s image.
“No one wants angry people coming up to them all day saying, ‘Don’t film me,’” Matte said.
Meta is trying a broader approach by aiming to turn its smart glasses into a universal remote control. Instead of using a computer for everyday activities, work and entertainment, people would manipulate digital images projected in their eyewear.
Want to type an email? Use the hologram-like keyboard suspended in front of you. Want to play chess? Reach out and move your virtual pawn and then wait for your opponent to counter.
For all its big aspirations, Meta’s technology is a bit rudimentary for now. Trying it out means putting on bulky eyewear attached to wires.
In addition to turning on a lamp during a recent test, testers could pop some virtual bubbles with a light saber and use their hands to assemble a space rocket that then blasts off. Gesturing in thin air can prove to be awkward, however, at least for a newcomer to augmented reality.
Gribetz is optimistic Meta’s glasses will improve over time. He pointed to big gains in the past few months, including the ability to sense a room’s layout, which involves the highly complex problem of picking up on the presence of blank walls.
The company previewed an updated version of its eyewear, the metaPro, to the public Tuesday. The new model comes with a display that is 15 times bigger than Google Glass’.
Only developers may order the new version, but shipments of the device — along with a mini-computer that users must wear in their pocket and link to their eyewear via a thin wire — aren’t expected for another six months while the company continues to tweak the technology.
As part of the update, Meta redesigned its glasses to be sleeker than its previous models. Smaller components allowed the company to do away with an unattractive brow at the top of the eyewear. Style is a detail Gribetz described as his obsession. People will have to make such a big mental leap to use the technology compared with the familiarity of a traditional computer that he doesn’t want any cosmetic issues to get in the way.
“We want to make glasses that people love wearing anyway,” Gribetz said, “and we just put a computer inside it.”