Atheer Labs isn't the only company chasing Tony Stark, but it is the very latest to offer a set of smart glasses to developers -- enabling them to build out 3D touchless gesture controlled apps. Like its competitor, Meta, Atheer wants to do away with restrictive conventional computing and replace it with augmented reality. The idea is to, eventually, combine your real and digital worlds seamlessly through the power of smart glasses and wearable computers. Unlike Meta, however, Atheer's using Android underpinnings, and will let users run regular Android applications on their faces while they wait for the 3D apps to arrive.
As have many others, Atheer's chosen Indiegogo as the means to connect with code monkeys and get them building applications for its platform. And, with the launch of the funding campaign comes the revelation of both a dev kit and the company's first set of consumer specs, dubbed Atheer One. Folks willing to spend $850 for a developer kit now will get their hardware in March 2014. Early adopters wanting the One headset need only pay $350, but won't receive it until the end of next year. What you see above (dev kit on the right, Atheer One on the left) is close to what will make its way into backers' hands, but the hardware's not yet final.
We still have yet to see functioning, fully integrated hardware from Atheer, as the company has only shown us dummy headsets and hacked together prototypes. However, company founder Soulaiman Itani informed us that the glasses pictured above "are 90 percent there, but there are optimizations to be made when it comes to size, fashion and power." Additionally, the One will have swappable front lenses, so that folks can better tailor the One to fit their fashion sense.
Software-wise, Atheer is envisioning immersive, 3D digital constructs that can be moved and manipulated by human hands. We got to see an updated demo of Atheer's tech, and while it was an improvement over what we saw previously, it's clear there's still work to do. Six months ago, we were using rough, rudimentary programs with little polish: grabbing and moving simple digital shapes with our hands and zooming in and out of static images using pinch-to-zoom gestures. That system was tough to interact with, as it was essentially a couple of displays stuck to a sensor bar and mounted on a tripod -- plus it didn't always register our gesticular inputs.
This time around we got to put on an actual working headset -- that was of similar size and shape to the dev headset, only it was clearly handmade and had exposed wiring and see a more refined GUI with graphically polished buttons and virtual computing windows. It also did a better job of recognizing input from our hands as we waved them about. The new demo was essentially an interactive map of a multi-story building that allowed you to navigate through the blueprints of various floors through swipes and pokes. 3D graphical buttons were easily activated by our fingertips, but the maps themselves were flat, and therefore a disappointment. We would have liked to see something akin to what Google Maps now does in major cities, rendering them in three-dimensional form for us to explore. Instead, it felt like a 2D app with some 3D bits grafted on for effect. For a company aiming to build an immersive experience, Atheer's got a long way to go.
As for the internal hardware, there are some important distinctions to be made between the dev kit and the One headset. First and foremost, an external computer is connected to the dev kit glasses that houses all the hardware and connectivity needed to build apps using Atheer's SDK: USB, HDMI and 3.5mm jacks, quad-core Snapdragon 800 silicon, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, MicroSD slot, plus the usual assortment of gyro, accelerometer, compass, light and proximity sensors. Generally speaking, it's the same hardware you find in a new, top-tier smartphone or tablet -- which should provide a canvas familiar to mobile developers.
Meanwhile, the One will connect to your smartphone to do all the computational lifting via Slimport -- a protocol that allows your phone to output HD audio and video through a micro-USB connection. Users will need a relatively new phone running Android 4.2 for it to work with the One. For reference, the company told us that a Nexus 4 provides ample grunt to run the necessary graphics. Both consumer and dev models pack dual 1024 x 768 resolution see-through displays to deliver HD content to your face, and each has two 5-megapixel cameras and depth sensors from SoftKinetic so it can see what your hands are doing.
Atheer is a long ways away from achieving the kind of user experience shown in its promo video. Still, if you're a developer looking to tinker with three dimensional, augmented reality computing, or an early adopter who wants to see this new wave of tech evolve firsthand -- and you've got the disposable income -- Atheer may have just what you're looking for.
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