Epson's retooled augmented reality glasses may transform how we do work

Epson's Moverio smart glasses have undergone something of a transformation since TechRadar reviewed the augmented reality headset back in 2011.

A physical transformation, yes, but more importantly a change in purpose as well.

Then it was a quirky, dark-lens gadget for semi-isolated movie-viewing, but now Epson's intentions for the Moverio are clear: it's an enterprise device meant for "desk-less" workers ranging from couriers to those in construction.

Epson is working with software developers and smart glasses experts at APX Labs on a three-part initiative called Skylight that it hopes will help make Moverio the go-to wearable tech for businesses in the near future.

TechRadar met with Epson Moverio Product Manager Eric Mizufuka and APX Vice President Ed English at the recent Wearable Tech Expo in Los Angeles where they treated us to a few demos with the re-purposed specs and gave us the scoop on Moverio's new direction.

What sets Moverio apart

The prototype Moverio headset Epson showed us, called the BT-100, was far from complete, though it's changed quite a bit since 2011.

The new Epson smart glasses offer a true augmented reality experience, with two transparent displays allowing it to project what Mizufuka said is the equivalent of an 80-inch screen in front of your eyes. It looks just like a floating Android display. The glasses can also project interaction points in 3D space, track users' locations and head movements, and more.

What sets Moverio apart is that it's both transparent and binocular, meaning it has two separate displays that your brain turns into a single image. Mizufuka said that's unique; Google Glass, for example, is transparent, but only has a single display. Oculus Rift meanwhile is a true virtual reality experience, being both opaque and binocular.

These properties give the Moverio some advantages in enterprise, like leaving users' vision intact. And it can display points in 3D space by taking advantage of users' depth perception thanks to its dual screens.

Work hard for the AR

The applications Epson and APX demoed served a variety of work-related functions. For example a warehouse worker might see a small map guiding him or her to specific items, which would then be scanned automatically by the Moverio's camera. An arrow on the map shows the users' location and moves as they move, with a 1:1 response.

It's quite neat, and the "mini-map" should look familiar to anyone who's played a video game - it's exactly like something in Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty.

In another example, "points of interest" were arrayed in 3D space around the room. Focusing a floating, circular reticle around them using head-tracking caused various information - from business hours to wind speeds - to be displayed. Even videos, like of hypothetical traffic conditions on the Golden Gate Bridge, could be summoned on command.

These applications are mere examples developed by APX Labs to show off what the headset is capable of. APX previously developed smart glasses tech for military use, including something English called "Terminator vision." Like its cinematic namesake, it scans faces in a crowd and identifies threats.

He also described another program that helps combat medics in the field communicate with doctors.

These applications are currently used in real-life scenarios, but the potential for reaching a much broader audience is there.

"There's a million more valuable things you can do for delivering real-time information overlay to people who need to work hands-free," English said. He and Mizufuka call these applications "solutions for desk-less workers."

"Using the military glasses was great, but they were not available, they were expensive. They weren't fit for widespread adoption for enterprise customers. And that's when we came across Eric [Mizufuka] and Epson," English said.