Smart glasses make hands-free 'Pokémon Go' a reality

'Pokémon Go' and augmented reality glasses are a match made in heaven.

Pokemon Go running on a Recon Jet. Here you can see the app screen casted from the Jet to a Surface laptop.

Pokémon Go has taken the world by storm. It's not uncommon to see dozens of people walking around parks and city streets with their heads buried in their phones, trying to catch cute cartoon monsters. Unfortunately, doing so means you're not keeping your eyes on the road, which has already led to a few accidents. But what if you could somehow play Pokémon Go while also paying attention to the world around you? That's exactly what Recon has attempted to do by porting the popular game over to the Jet, a pair of Android-based smart glasses the company released last year. The setup isn't perfect and it doesn't work completely just yet, but even what I've seen so far provides an exciting glimpse at the next wave of augmented reality.

At Intel's Developer Forum in San Francisco this week, I had a chance to try on a Jet to see the app in action. Since the Jet already has GPS, WiFi and a fully baked operating system, a Recon software developer by the name of Patrick Cho was able to move Pokémon Go over to it as a standalone app. The caveat here is that the Jet doesn't have LTE, so you'll have to figure out how to get WiFi if you're out and about -- an important consideration when playing Pokémon Go. Mine used a hotspot connection to a phone for its internet connection, so we were good there. Cho also had to reorient the Pokémon Go screen from portrait to landscape mode to accommodate the Jet's 428 x 240 resolution display.

Pokémon Go, as seen on the Recon Jet

It took a while to get the app going. Since this is an unofficial port, it isn't optimized for the Jet and feels quite sluggish in action. The app was also prone to stalling, and even crashed on me a few times. But it did work eventually. After a long loading time, I saw the familiar Pokémon Go interface appear in the Jet's bottom-right screen. I immediately saw a map representation of the area surrounding San Francisco's Moscone Center dotted with a slew of Pokéstops imbued with sparkling pink lures. It was a sight that would make any Pokétrainer happy.

Unfortunately, I was unable to catch any Pokémon due to the uncooperative app. But the proof of concept is there. Even though there's no touchscreen, I could theoretically throw a Pokéball by swiping the temple on the right. A side button could be remapped to trigger a Pokéstop. And if you were armed with the upcoming Pokémon Go wearable that lets you snag monsters by simply tapping a button, it'd make capturing that elusive Dragonite that much easier. At the very least, I could see myself using the Jet to hatch a Pokémon egg just by walking around.

The Pokémon Go app launcher, as seen on the Recon Jet

I particularly appreciated that the game only took up only a small corner of my peripheral vision. I could still see and interact with the world as I played the game. This way, I was able to track monsters and still be aware of my surroundings. Of course, the potential downside here is that the Recon Jet's battery life likely isn't long enough to withstand hours of play. But being able to play Pokémon Go without having to stare at your phone still sounds like a pretty great proposition to me.

The Jet has so far been used mostly for fitness applications like running and cycling, but Recon recently announced an enterprise partner program that will open it up to other uses too. The idea here is that the AR glasses could be used for work like field service or manufacturing. For example, workers could talk to a remote engineer as they're fixing a problem or look up a user manual on how to fix electrical wiring right as they're doing it. But the real purpose of opening the Jet up is to show how flexible it is as a hardware and development platform. And as I've seen with Pokémon Go, it's a pretty great way to play augmented-reality games too.

It's difficult to see here, but this is a shot of the Pokémon Go screen on the Recon Jet's tiny display

A Recon spokesperson said that if more time was spent on it and if Niantic joined in to help optimize the app, there's potential for the experience to be much better. Recon isn't the only company to think of this collaboration either. Osterhaut Design Group (ODG) ported an unofficial version of the app over to its R7 headset a month ago, while CapitolaVR created a demo of how Pokémon Go would look through Microsoft's HoloLens headset. Still, the R7 and the HoloLens both sell for upwards of $2,000, while the Jet is available today for $500. Plus, Recon's hardware has already been repurposed to play paintball in the form of the Empire EVS mask, so it doesn't take much imagination to see how it could be adapted to work with mobile AR games too.

In an email statement, a Recon spokesperson said: "With further optimization, Pokémon Go on Recon Jet could very well be brought to market in the future." Let's hope it is.