Smartglasses with Android UI, gesture controls take shape in Taiwan

The smartglasses are still prototypes, but hope to gain support and enter the market

The ITRI Smart Glass prototype.

The ITRI Smart Glass prototype.

As Google Glass goes on sale in the U.S., a few developers in Taiwan are working on their own smartglasses devices, including one that uses gesture controls.

A prototype from Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) showed up at this year's Computex trade show in Taipei. It's built in a similar way to Google Glass and has a head mounted display that runs Android 4.2. But rather than rely on voice commands, the device is equipped with two cameras that can read the user's hand motions.

The idea is to let the glasses remotely control the user's smartphone, said Chih-Hsiang Yu, an ITRI researcher. "You could just leave your smartphone in your pocket, and then use your hand gestures to look up content," he said.

For example, the user could cycle through the phone's apps, and play music, share a video, or make searches. One app was demoed showing that the user could scan foods to look up their calory content.

To operate the device, a user reaches forward so the device can see their hand. A swipe of the hand left or right can switch between apps, and a closed fist will confirm an action. ITRI's device, however, is still in its early stages. It only has 30 minutes of battery life, and the prototype was made out of plastic, making it easy to break.

While ITRI doesn't sell products directly to consumers, the non-profit research group wants to license the technology to interested parties. "You wouldn't have to speak, you could just use your motions," Yu said, pointing out the device's advantages. He estimated that a retail version of the product would go for less than $1,500, the current price of Google Glass.

Taiwan-based company ChipSiP Technology also had its own prototype on display at Computex. The SiME Smart Glass isn't ready for prime time, but the company wants to attract developers to build software for the device.

The prototype bears a resemblance to Google Glass, but is made out of a flimsy plastic. We tried it briefly, and found it uncomfortable and hard to use. It essentially works by loading the full user interface to Android 4.2. on to the glasses' display. This allows the device to operate in the same way as an Android tablet would.

But in practice, the Android interface was hard to make out, and often appeared faint on the glasses' transparent display. Another drawback is that the device has no voice commands yet. Instead, users have to guide a cursor, using a touchpad built into the glasses' right side.

ChipSiP, however, is still working on improving the device, and wants to add gesture commands and more software to improve its use. The company is hoping to sell a final product next year for around US$500. A developer edition will be available next month for $1,000.

The current prototype has a 5-megapixel camera, uses a 1.2 GHz dual-core processor, and has a battery life of 2 hours.

Tags computexGoogleconsumer electronicsChipSiP TechnologyTaiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI)

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