Gadgets

This $200 Google Glass competitor looks like ordinary glasses — and can hold prescription lenses

Above: The view from LaForge's "smartspecks"

Image Credit: LaForge Optical

A tiny unfunded five-person startup in Massachusetts has created a Google Glass alternative that, they say, is much more immersive than Glass — and much less geeky.

The product is a set of smart glasses — “smartspecks” — that can give you heads-up directions, take pictures, record videos, display on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram updates from your friends, and more. Just like Google Glass, connectivity to the cloud is via your phone. Unlike Google Glass, however, all the intelligence resides in an app on that phone.

LaForge's companion app

Above: LaForge’s companion app

Image Credit: LaForge Optical

“We designed the simplest most minimalist device that we could,” LaForge Optical CEO Corey Mack told VentureBeat. “Anyone who wants Google Glass … in a more conventional form factor can have it. Additionally our lens technology allows for people who need prescription lenses (about 65 percent of the population) to be able to use our glasses.”

The upshot, he says, is that LaForge Optical delivers 80 percent of what people want from a pair of smart glasses — with 20 percent of the complication.

Each of the five founders are current and former students of the Rochester Institute of Technology, who were working on a home automation product. Searching for a solution to make it more user-friendly, they hit on smart glasses as a hands-free, convenient control method, then pivoted into actually making a full-on Google Glass competitor instead of their original home automation product.

LaForge’s product, Mack says, has a mainstream look that Google Glass doesn’t have, works as a convention pair of prescription glasses, and has a fully immersive user experience — it doesn’t require you to look up and to the right to see a tiny LCD screen, for instance. But it’s the ordinary, average, everyday look of a pair of glasses that’s one of the company’s key differentiators.

“You don’t have to look like a nerd to be the most tech savvy person in a room,” Mack says.

The five mechanical and electrical engineers, developers, and CAD designers have currently run through two working iterations of product and are on their third, Mack told VentureBeat. They’ll be opening pre-orders on the company website for a select few customers — about 100 — in a week, but will then be hitting Kickstarter to raise more interest, find more initial customers, and acquire the capital necessary for a larger production run.

The first version will be just $200, but on Kickstarter the price will be about $400.

How does it work?

“Our smartspecks use a custom frame that has the electronic components, such as the battery, display and bluetooth antenna embedded within it. We also use a custom lens that can be cut to nearly any shape and allows users to see the information on the display in front of the user,” Mac says. “Our app is used to relay data between your phone and the glasses. When the glasses are in use it also makes you phone think that the glasses peripherals are its own peripherals. For example, when a users presses a button on the glasses to take a phone call, your phone thinks that the microphone in the glasses are the microphone that is in the phone.”

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