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Qualcomm sets sights on smart glasses Vurforia augmented reality platform expanding into wearables market
By Mike Freeman4:54 p.m.Sept. 19, 2014Updated5:01 p.m.
Epson's smart glasses run apps that use Qualcomm's Vuforia technology to create virtual reality displays over real objects. — Mike Freeman
At Qualcomm’s Uplinq conference this week, Michael Leyva handed a pair of Epson Moverio BT-200 smartglasses to a visitor and directed him to look at an industrial water pump about 4 feet way.

After a couple of seconds, the glasses recognized the pump. That triggered a 3-D virtual image overlaid on the actual pump. The virtual image gave step-by-step instructions for how to take the pump apart — beginning with an animated wrench loosening bolts.

“It guides a worker on service and maintenance and makes it hands free,” said Leyva, an associate project manager for Epson.

The water pump demonstration highlights the potential for the nascent market for smartglasses.

While Google Glass has garnered most of the headlines in the computer eyewear market for its mostly consumer-focused device, other companies are pursuing the technology for business uses like worker training, equipment repair and aiding general aviation pilots.

Whether smartglasses will ever emerge as a popular product remains unclear. In most cases, the glasses today are too expensive for most consumers. Google Glass, for example, costs $1,500 for the beta testers who purchased them.

Smartglasses outfits, however, are increasingly targeting businesses and niche markets to get the technology deployed.

Epson and ODG — which makes high-performance smartglasses for government and big business customers — showed off their technology at Uplinq because each uses Qualcomm Vuforia, an augmented reality software platform.

To date, Vuforia has been mainly used by toymakers and consumer product companies to show virtual objects on smartphone and tablet screens.

Vuforia taps into mobile devices’ cameras to meld virtual and real world objects. For example, Lego’s Fusion games let kids call up virtual characters to play in the Lego communities they have just built.

In addition, TV shoppers can take a flier home from a store and place it in their entertainment center. When they point their smartphone or tablet at the brochure, Vuforia activates a very realistic, virtual television on the device screen. Shoppers can manipulate the image to see how bigger or smaller TVs would look in the space.

On Thursday, Qualcomm released a version of the Vuforia software tool to bring similar augmented reality capabilities to the digital eyewear market.

ODG’s smartglasses are the state-of-the-art 3-D eyewear that runs on Qualcomm’s top-tier Snapdragon application processors. With a price tag expected to exceed $5,000, they aren’t meant for the average consumer. The company sells to the military, security, medical and industrial markets.

The Epson Moverio BT-200 smartglasses cost about $700. They run on the Android operating system and use apps for specific markets.

The water pump app came from Scope AR — which uses augmented reality as part of its training and maintenance solutions. Qualcomm’s Vuforia helps the app center the virtual image over the actual piece of equipment, said Leyva.

Epson also is working with Aero Glass, a Hungarian company with U.S. operations in San Diego. Aero Glass is beta testing an augmented reality app with about 200 general aviation pilots, said Jeffrey Johnson, head of business development.

“The app displays all the aviation data that pilots would normally see on an iPad,” said Johnson. “So you can see all the airports and navigational aids and instrument landing procedures in 3-D.”

Aero Glass hasn’t incorporated Vuforia into its app yet, but is talking with Qualcomm about using the technology.

“The promise of digital eyewear is to create a heads-up display for our daily lives. While the realization of this promise remains in the future, Vuforia is taking a big step in the right direction by enabling a first generation of applications for consumer and enterprise use,” said Jay Wright, vice president of product management for Qualcomm Connected Experiences.

© Copyright 2014 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC. An MLIM LLC Company. All rights reserved.
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