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Video eyewear gets a bit less embarassing

By Mark Baard
September 21, 2009

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Augmented reality
Vuzix Corp. is refining its personal 2D and 3D video eyewear, ever so slowly, into something regular folks might consider wearing on the T. More importantly, the new eyewear represents a step toward a more seamless kind of augmented reality environment, one with wearable displays that are as lightweight and unobtrusive as eyeglasses or contact lenses, such as the AR lens concept recently announced by the University of Washington.

Vuzix’s latest headset, the Wrap 310, looks more like a pair of sunglasses than the Geordi La Forge headbands that preceded it or the prototypical “range hoods’’ that the MIT kids were sporting around campus a few years ago.

The Wrap 310 (due this fall, for about $250) will come with a choice of lens colors. You will be able to focus each of its lenses for viewing video, without your prescription glasses.

As with hearing aids that resemble earrings, there will soon be a big market for eyewear based on the Wrap 310. Seniors will be likelier to use the assisted-cognition AR apps that AI experts are developing - to help them remember names and faces, among other things - if they can view the apps in something more attractive than “cataract sunglasses.’’

Vuzix is not billing the Wrap 310 as an AR headset. Rather, it says the device is ideal for watching movies in public “without attracting stares.’’ (It connects to the iPhone and other media players.)

But Vuzix sees its future in AR. The company this fall also plans to release a clip-on USB camera, the CamAR, for use in real and virtual spaces with the Wrap and other Vuzix headsets.

Since the Wrap 310 connects to the iPhone and other hand-held devices, you should be able to use the headset to explore existing AR apps.

With Wikitude (www.wikitude.org), for example, you can instantly read factoids about a landmark that your phone’s camera is pointing at. Another app, TwittAround, shows tweets that are being generated nearby and indicates the directions from which they are originating.

Mobile phones

From Nokia, a cellphone with a twist

Verizon Wireless last week released the Nokia 7705 Twist, a pretty (and pretty small) square phone that fans out to reveal a full keypad.

The keypad has hot buttons for quick access to music, mail, and the Web. The phone also has a handy post-to-blog function, for photobloggers and perhaps for typists who are quick with tiny keys.

The Twist has a changeable faceplate, if you prefer purple to black, for example. It also has a 3-megapixel camera.

That somehow strikes me as impressive for a phone which, when folded, measures less than 2 3/4 inches by 2 3/4 inches, and a little more than a half-inch thick. To use the camera, you must open the phone.

The cutest thing about the Twist is its programmable Contact Light Ring, a mood ring of sorts that glows in six colors, to identify callers.

The Twist also has a vanity mirror, so you can check your lipstick before snapping that updated profile shot for your Facebook account.