The Next Mobile Computing Platform: A Pair Of Sunglasses
Within the next several years, wearable, lightweight smartglasses will replace your smartphone, your monitor, even your television.
Osterhout Design Group (ODG), just raised 58 Million dollars to turn its successful R-7 Head Mounted Displays (HMDs) for enterprise into a $1,000 consumer product (the R-8) that will have all the functionality of an Android smartphone, and more. The unit comes packaged with nifty “ring controller” (aka an “air mouse”) for subtle hand gestures — swiping, clicking and typing, as well as the option for a bluetooth keyboard or phone app. The ODG HMD also has a fifty degree field of view and can show cinema quality video that is equivalent to a 90″ high def TV seen from 10 feet away.
Pattie Maes of the MIT Media Lab is well known for her compelling TED talks about the poor ergonomics of modern life. “We’re living simultaneously but superficially in the real and digital worlds, multitasking, continually interrupting ourselves by checking our smart phones 100+ times a day” she said at January’s “AR in Action” conference at The MIT Media Lab. “Tech has become part of us”, she said, “but the form is all wrong. In the short term, our technology is making us less mindful and attentive, but in the long term it has the potential to make us much, much better. Better learners, better workers, better able to reach our potential. Technology will augment us, and make us better, smarter, happier and more efficient”. Founder Ralph Osterhout and The Osterhout Design Group have set out to fix this very problem.
In our interview on March 13, ODG’s Chief Operating Officer Peter Jameson told me “we believe we are building the next mobile computing platform.” We will soon find out if this is a niche market or something much, much more disruptive. Migu, a content subsidiary of the world’s largest cell phone company, China Mobile, will introduce the ODG R-9 and R-8 headsets, for business and personal use respectively, through its 40,000 retail outlets this Fall.
ODG was founded in 1999 by Ralph Osterhout, an inventor who helped develop those bad-ass flip down night vision goggles the military uses. For the past fifteen years the company worked for the Department of Defense, but along the way they developed substantial intellectual property to support HMDs, some of which they sold to Microsoft for use with its Hololens. In 2015, ODG started making its own HMD, the R-7, for enterprise users in manufacture, remote repair and maintenance, and medicine. A remote expert can see what the user sees and augment their view with schematics, even hand drawing over the real time video feed from the headset, turning remote, low skilled employees into high skilled ones. The medical profession has been complaining for years that they live in a world which is monitor rich, and ergonomically poor, requiring them to continuously look away from patients to monitors during surgeries.
The case for the consumer market was compelling enough for Fox to lead ODG’s recent 58MM round of financing. “The imagery is remarkable, like being in a digital theater,” Jameson said. Watching movies with the headsets is such an immersive, 3D experience, “they [Fox] see this as a platform for current digital content in a new mobile, heads up environment”. At sporting events, fans wearing headsets could have telepresence on the sideline, commentary, replay, stats and other data all while watching the games with their mates as they always do, only augmented, and better. No more looking from the game to your phone. No more fumbling with your phone to take a picture of what you’re seeing
Post financing, and in anticipation of being in the consumer market late this year, ODG is scaling up (100+ employees and growing quickly). Like the mobile handset makers, Apple, LG, Erikson, Nokia, HTC, Google, and Samsung, ODG needs support from the big cellphone networks like Migu/China Mobile to bring its product to consumers. The competition is going to be fierce. Many companies, including Microsoft, and a number of start ups like Meta, are also focused on augmented reality heads up displays. Apple’s pending iPhone 10 announcement is rumored to feature Augmented Reality HMD. ODG sees this competition as healthy — and helpful. “We want the whole AR industry to succeed — in order to help push it to forward and to the mass consumer”, says ODG’s Jameson.
ODG’s head mounted, wearable computers, are really souped up Android smartphones using Qualcomm’s powerful 835 SnapDragon processor. They represent a major paradigm shift in mobile computing. It sounds crazy to say it, but in the world of hardware and software development, manufacture, and marketing of new consumer devices, 58MM does not go that far. Just do the math: 100,000 units at a cost of 800 each is 80MM. In order to get a bite of what may be, according to International Data Corporation (IDG) a 48.7 BN market in 2021, ODG is going to have to be the market-maker for wearable computers, and find a lot more money.
The costs, and the risks, are high, but the consumer case is compelling. The R-8 has the potential to make what we do on our phones every day, such as watching video and using maps, much better, easier and faster. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon or make a better mouse trap than his neighbors, though he builds his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door.”
ODG R-9 HARDWARE SPECS
•Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ 835
•6GB RAM & 128GB Storage
•1300mAh Lithium-Ion Batteries
•Dual 1080p Stereoscopic See-Thru @ 60fps
•22:9 & 16:9 Aspect Ratios
•9-Axis Integrated Inertial Measuring Unit
•Altitude, Humidity, Ambient Light Sensor
•13MP Autofocus Camera (4k @ 60fps)
•Dual 1080p Cameras
•Digital Microphones (Environment & User)
•Built-In Stereo Speaker
•ReticleOS, Android Nougat Framework
- 156 grams