Intel Vaunt project tries to take the stigma out of AR glasses

Google's Glass augmented reality eyewear could charitably be remembered as divisive back when it had consumer ambitions. Intel's New Devices Group is looking to change that perception about AR glasses with a pared-back new product called Vaunt. Dieter Bohn from The Verge got an exclusive chance to wear a Vaunt prototype and wrote about his experience.

Compared to Glass, the Vaunt glasses have no buttons, no LCD screen, no speaker, no camera, and no microphone. What's left is a unique display that uses a low-power laser and a holographic reflector on the right lens to superimpose a red, monochrome image with a resolution of about 400x150 onto the user's field of view. Intel says the laser's power is so low that the device doesn't require any kind of certification. The laser image is projected directly on the retina, and Intel told Bohn that the resulting display should always be in focus and work with or without corrective lenses. The image is focused about 15° below the user's line of sight so that it doesn't interfere with regular vision.

Image: The Verge

Itai Vonshak from Intel told Bohn that the company wants its head-mounted displays to bear "zero social cost," an attribute that was hard to apply to Google Glass. Because of Vaunt's direct-to-retina projection, outside observers shouldn't be able to tell the glasses apart from regular vision-correctors without careful examination. The headset takes commands over Bluetooth from a paired smartphone to display information like notifications and navigation updates. The device works with prescription lenses and will come in multiple styles, just like traditional eyeglasses.

Intel's engineers told Bohn that they worked on locating the electronic components inside Vaunt's frame in a way that would allow the device to mimic the feel of traditional eyeglasses. The total weight of the frames is said to be less than 1.8 oz (50 g). The frames also include an accelerometer and a compass for head motion detection for gesture control. Other forms of user input might make their way into future Vaunt prototypes, although recording devices would conflict with Intel's zero-social-cost mission statement.

Bohn says Intel will launch Vaunt as part of an early access program later this year. Bohn notes that one of Vaunt's engineers, Brian Hernacki, worked for Palm on the company's webOS. Itai Vonshak also worked at Palm before moving with webOS to LG and later guiding interface design at smartwatch maker Pebble. It's no surprise, then, that Bohn learned that programming for Vaunt glasses will likely involve lots of Javascript. Beyond the developer program, Intel is somewhat vague about its plans for Vaunt, other than saying it wants some sort of partnership with other companies to really bring the technology to market rather than trying to launch the glasses as an in-house product. For the moment, Bohn thinks Vaunt is a much less heavy-handed and much more compelling AR experience than Glass, so hopefully some partners can be convinced to pick up the tech.

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