Atheer’s Augmented Reality Glasses Tech Looks Cool

A Silicon Valley startup is previewing its 3D, gesture-enabled augmented reality glasses.

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Google Glass may be the world’s best-known pair of augmented-reality glasses, but Google is far from the only company developing a product in the category. And the founders of one of them, Soulaiman Itani and Allen Yang of Silicon Valley-based Atheer Labs, are doing a tech demo this morning here at the D11 conference. I recently got a sneak peek of the company’s platform; it’s both promising and meaningfully different from Google’s take on the same overarching category.

Atheer’s platform runs on Android. It overlays images on both lenses of the glasses, allowing you to see 3D images and the real world at the same time. A camera enables Kinect-like air gestures, permitting the user to interact with the projected images. (One of the company’s demos involves a Fruit Ninja-like game that lets you slice the fruit as it tumbles around before your eyes.) Voice recognition lets you speak commands, and Wi-Fi allows apps to snag data from the web on the fly, such as the local information they might need to augment the reality around you.

Judging from the brief time I got with a prototype, it’s all very neat. But it’s also a work in progress rather than a consumer product, or even an almost-finished consumer product. The version I tried involved lenses and a camera mounted on a tripod; onstage, the company showed a version with electronics mounted in a large pod. What Atheer hasn’t yet done is squeezed everything into a self-contained, battery-powered pair of glasses a la Google Glass. That process is underway.

For now, the company will be starting outreach to developers, providing some of them with kits that will help them create 3D augmented-reality apps. It’s also still formulating plans for bringing the technology to market, which could involve either Atheer-branded glasses or ones manufactured by other companies.

Itani has been working on this concept for a while. “For ten years they told me ‘You’re too early,” he told me. “Then Google Glass came out and they said, ‘You’re too late.’” It still seems awfully early for the whole category to me — and it’ll be fun to see where it goes, and if Atheer can turn its research into products that large numbers of real people want to wear.