Epson, known mostly for its printer technology, this week began marketing its augmented reality glasses in Israel, a week after they were introduced in the US and Europe. Similar in concept to Google Glass, the Epson Moverio BT-200 glasses include cameras, projectors, sensors and a Bluetooth connection that transmits the display of an Android phone or tablet and projects it onto the glasses. Portions of the software used by the device were developed in Israel, said Valerie Riffaud-Cangelos, Epson Europe’s executive vice president in charge of marketing the device.
Weighing only 88 grams, the glasses contain a slew of sensors and imaging components that enable users to see on the glasses what they could see on their Android device’s screen. Similar to Google Glass, users could see a stream of email or Twitter posts through the glasses as they go about their daily business. They could watch YouTube videos, or any other web content, with all images beamed to the glasses via Bluetooth.
The point of the Moverio, said Riffaud-Cangelos, is for use with augmented reality apps. “For example, you could have an app where a person would see an overlay of how to change a tire while they are actually doing it. The user would focus the glasses on the bolts or the jack and be shown a pattern of how to use them. They could then follow the pattern being displayed, thus saving them time, effort and money.”
The glasses could be used for games and exercise activities, showing users the right moves for karate, pilates or any other physical activity, said Riffaud-Cangelos. Schools could use them to integrate students into historical scenes, providing them with a better learning experience. Maintenance personnel could wear them and get step-by-step directions on how to deal with a problem.
“There are a million and one uses for a reasonably-priced AR device that can easily be integrated into a myriad of scenarios,” said Riffaud-Cangelos. “I foresee a day when devices like these will become as essential as tablets and smartphones are today. At 700 euros, it’s within reach of many more consumers than other such devices.”
Riffaud-Cangelos demonstrated the glasses Wednesday at Droidcon 2014, a gathering of Android mobile platform developers in Tel Aviv. “We’ve spoken to representatives of many industries who are interested in these glasses, and we are working with partners to develop apps for them,” she said. “Some of these apps are being developed by Israeli partners.” Besides introducing the glasses to Israeli customers, one of the main reasons Epson was at Droidcon was to develop contacts with more Israeli app developers, and show them the potential of the glasses, Riffaud-Cangelos added.
The device is already backordered in the US and Europe, with customers ranging from museums to hospitals lining up to buy one. Orders are being taken in Israel as well, with customers limited to buying three of the devices at this time because of limited supply. “Several companies, including EasyJet, have already announced plans to integrate the glasses into their operations,” said Riffaud-Cangelos.
According to EasyJet, the airline is evaluating the use of the devices to enable engineering teams to see exactly what a pilot or engineer is seeing. Using an augmented reality app, teams in the control tower could see what pilots are seeing and provide live information to them in real time, guiding them to safety more effectively. As it stands, pilots must email still images to ground staff so they can suggest solutions to mid-air problems.
Although augmented reality glasses may seem a stretch for a company that is mostly known for producing printers, Epson has been a the forefront of video imaging technology for decades, said Riffaud-Cangelos. What, after all, is laser printing other than an imaging technology?
Right now, Moverio glasses are wirelessly “tethered” to a device, meaning that they need to be within range of a phone or tablet to work. In that sense, they are a generation behind Google Glass, the always-connected device that lets users access the Internet and apps without requiring any other device connection. Epson hopes to make the Moverio “self-sustaining,” with a processor and network connection built into the device.
Riffaud-Cangelos says Epson is not afraid to compete with Google in the wearable tech field, despite the huge advantage in apps the search giant has over Epson. Google Play, the company’s app store, has tens of thousands of apps that could be adapted to Google Glass. “I think we will be successful with our product,” she said. “Each device has its advantages, as we do, and competition is good for development of products, so competing with Google and others will help us make our product better as well.”
Although she could not reveal specifics, Riffaud-Cangelos said that “several” Israeli app makers were working with Epson to develop applications for the device. According to Oren Fleischer, CEO of Epson Israel, Epson is set to recruit more Israeli companies to join the project in the coming weeks. “This device is a glimpse of the future that awaits us all,” Fleischer said. “Wearable computing is a hot business today. Experts believe that the current $8 billion market for AR technology will grow to $17 billion by 2017. Epson wants to be a part of that, and it sees Israel as integral to that effort.”
Watch a video of Epson’s Moverio augmented reality glasses in action: