Unlike most hardware that has transformative ambitions, Intel’s ‘Vaunt’ smart glasses are designed to be inconspicuous.
It’s fair to say that Google’s first foray into smart glasses was not a roaring success. They were too bulky for mass adoption, raised privacy concerns, and sported so many extras that they attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.
But the promise of the technology remains, according to chip giant Intel.
Shedding the ‘glassholes’ label
Intel’s Vaunt glasses offer a different interpretation of how our relationship with smart-eye technology could be. Instead of taking photos, talking back to wearers, or lighting up their faces with LEDs, Vaunt glasses take a much more subtle approach. In fact, they are almost indistinguishable from standard frames.
That subtlety is supposed to extend to their impact, too. For now, Intel is hoping that less is more. The only interactive element is built into the right stem of the glasses. Inside are enough electronics to power a vertical cavity emitting laser – the kind that you might find in a computer mouse.
That laser projects a red image onto a holographic reflector on the glasses’ right lens. The image is then reflected into the eyeball, straight onto the retina.
If that sounds invasive, the reality is a small rectangle of text and icons that sits in the wearer’s peripheral vision. The aim is for notifications to be there when they’re needed, and not to distract users in the meantime.
So far the Vaunt glasses also have Bluetooth, an accelerometer, and a compass. The idea is to provide certain applications with enough information to be useful, but not so much that people feel their privacy is being invaded, or that wearers spend all of their time scrolling through social media feeds on their faces.
Notifications can be swatted away with a shake of the head, for example. Intel has suggested that future models may include a microphone, allowing Vaunt glasses to work with intelligent assistants from Google, Amazon, Apple, and the like.
Why is Intel making smart glasses?
Intel sees smart glasses as a platform that could have as big an impact on our daily lives as smartphones.
Itai Vonshak, VP of Intel’s product and new devices group, gives the example of ride sharing, a now-ubiquitous service that couldn’t have existed without a network of connected smartphones and users willing to try something new.
“When I saw the first smartphone, I didn’t say ‘wow, ride sharing, that’s going to happen’. We’re excited about this because it enables new use cases for developers to come up with”, he told The Verge.
Later this year Intel will release units to developers as part of an early access programme. It will then be up to them to build applications in line with the company’s big ambitions.
Vaunt glasses are also about Intel establishing itself in the foreground of emergent technology.
It’s been said that data is the new oil. And as Intel’s Jerry Bautista, VP and GM of the new devices group says, “You have to consume that data somehow. Not only do we want to help you manage that data… we also want to be part of presenting that data to you in a way that you can consume.”
Interesting questions lie ahead if and when Vaunt hits the mainstream: What are the commercial applications of this technology? Will they change the way we communicate? And at a time when we are more connected and yet increasingly detached, what social impact might they have?
As Intel’s senior director of software experiences Ronen Soffer speculates (without a hint of irony), “So I’m talking to you right now [while wearing Vaunt glasses] and you feel like you mean so much to me, but I’m actually playing a trivia game. You can actually ignore people much more efficiently this way.”
Internet of Business says
Intel is heading in an interesting direction with Vaunt. At its core, this appears to be a product designed with its own limitations in mind. Smart glasses promise convenience beyond connected watches and smartphones. For example, it’s easy to imagine a world in which going through your shopping list or getting directions is a process that occurs right in front of your eyes. But Intel has recognised that a major barrier to that world becoming a reality is aesthetics. Our willingness to adopt wearables extends only to a point. Blending in will always be important.