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Vuzix built the smartglasses Google wishes it did

Attention, crestfallen Google Glass enthusiasts: Your redemption has arrived.

While most of the tech world dismissed the “smartglasses” concept when Google put Glass to bed back in 2015, Vuzix continued toiling away on the form factor it has been working on since long before Google ever took an interest. The result, at long last: A pair of smartglasses you may actually want to wear.

No, we can’t guarantee your safety in a crowded San Francisco bar should you decide to wade into the ungentrified masses with the Vuzix Blade on a Saturday night. But we can say the sleek new shades are both eminently less punchable, and more functional than Glass ever was.

The Blade use Vuzix’s proprietary waveguide technology to superimpose bright, crystal-clear images directly in your line of sight. Unlike Glass, there’s no awkward arm jutting front of your eye. With the display turned off, the Blade glasses look like any other. Despite the tinted look you see in photos, you’ll have no issues wearing them indoors.

We wouldn’t go so far as to call them “stylish,” but next to just about any other form of techified eyewear, the Blade are at least normalish. You might even mistake them for a pair of Oakleys, if it weren’t for the light glowing around the fat temples.

How do they work? In an insane way you would probably never believe if you didn’t see it with your own eyes. A tiny LED projector in the temple shoots an image sideways into the lens, which has been laser-etched with tiny dots at specific depths that catch the “sideways” image and light it up in your field of view. If that all sounds a little ridiculous, it is. But that’s why Vuzix has been working on it for years, and why the end product looks so damn good. The same tech appeared in last year’s AR3000 smartglasses, but Vuzix marketed those more toward businesses.

When the display flicks on, you’ll get the usual there-and-not “ghost” effect of something seen only in one eye, until you look squarely at the image and freeze it into focus. Vuzix wouldn’t cite an exact resolution for the display, but the images unquestionably look better than anything we’ve ever seen on Glass – comparable in resolution to the HoloLens, Vuzix says.

Nick Mokey/Digital Trends
Nick Mokey/Digital Trends

You can use this little display to look at everything from photos to video, maps, and email. Pretty standard stuff, sure, but Vuzix already has an app store with third-party options for Spotify, Pandora, Netflix, and all the other staples you would expect, cooked up for previous Vuzix eyewear. You navigate through apps with an intuitive, touch-sensitive pad on the temple: swipe to navigate, tap to select.

Of course, the Blade still has some obvious shortcomings. Notably, battery life would still be as short as 90 minutes in extreme use-case scenarios, like watching movies. That’s not what they’re intended for, of course, but it illustrates one of the sacrifices made to keep them so sleek.

Will you start spotting Vuzix eyewear around town in 2018? At $1,000 a pop for the developer kit, probably not. But the Blade may make a compelling option for Glass devotees cast out by Google’s apparent indifference. And if the current design isn’t doing it for you, there’s hope: Vuzix owns the patents for the killer display that makes these glasses stand out, and wouldn’t rule out licensing it to other companies. All it would take is a deep-pocketed Apple, Samsung, or LG to snap it up to put this promising waveguide tech to work in something else entirely.

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