Google, Apple Making Augmented Reality Cool Amid CES

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2012-01-10

Every year for CES (the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, for the uninitiated), I receive scores of pitches about glasses, wrist watches and other gadgets that aim to augment reality or at least pop it out in a lively way via 3D.

When I stop by these booths, I'm regaled with tales from these gadget and gee-gaw makers about how their products are the wave of the future. Indeed.

Well, after a while, I laughed off a lot of these products because they don't make it to market, or if they do, they don't land in a meaningful way. They fail to make a mark or draw interest on a practical level.

Yet thanks to The New York Times, we know such augmented-reality devices may be in the works from Apple and Google.

In Google's secret Google X labs, researchers are working on peripherals that--when attached to your clothing or body--would communicate information back to an Android smartphone. People familiar with the work in the lab say Google has hired electronic engineers from Nokia Labs, Apple and engineering universities who specialize in tiny wearable computers.

Apple has also experimented with prototype products that could relay information back to the iPhone. These conceptual products could also display information on other Apple devices, like an iPod, which Apple is already encouraging us to wear on our wrists by selling Nanos with watch faces.

It makes sense that Google's X Labs and Apple's employees are working on these types of wearable devices, given the money that's at stake in advertising to users of these devices.

So, why is this important? It's important because Google and Apple are bellwethers for mobile operating systems and the connected Web. They have the financial wherewithal and consumer and street cred required to usher in new products to market.

Especially Apple, which jump-started touch-screen smartphone sales and ushered in the first major tablet computer to see massive consumer success.

I don't expect to see innovative Google or Apple wrist watches or glasses at CES, but that doesn't mean there won't be anything of the sort.

While Google and Apple play with lab tests, one company I plan to check out today (tomorrow, at the latest) is Sensics, which makes Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich-based 3D goggles it calls Natalia.

Natalia includes two OLED displays. The goggles support WiFi and Bluetooth so as to communicate with outside peripherals or other Natalia systems, download content and applications from the Internet.

With real-time, limitless-area hand tracking, head tracking with angular position and linear acceleration data, the initial application of Natalia is gaming, with other applications in the future, as Sensics CEO Yuval Boger explained:

The ability to use interactive goggles without wires and without the need for an external computer opens up new opportunities for applications that benefit from limitless tracking area, greater portability and on-board intelligence. Imagine being able to use hand movements and gestures to wield a light saber in a game, to select a movie from a media library, or to interact with augmented-reality content.

Can't make it to CES to get other details? Check out Sensics' demo video for Natalia, whose SmartGoggles technology will appear in products this summer:

I can't say whether Sensics goggles and software will sell, but maybe--just maybe--the market is ready to branch out. That is, if it has some help.

Just as Microsoft Xbox 360 and Kinect ushered in motion-triggered gaming systems, Google and Apple could rally behind wearable, connected Web devices.

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