We've been here before: the dream of Deus Ex: Human Revolution-vision within reach of the consumer. Experimental contact lenses are awesome, but we're years away from practical demonstrations. So why not the next best thing, lightweight, unobtrusive glasses that provide almost the same experience and manage not to be bulky to the point of making their use impractical. That's what Vuzix's SMART Glasses Eyewear, Industrial Monocular Display, and Thermal and Tactical Monocular Display promise, and if the proof of concept models they brought to CES are any indication, the Deus Ex dream is coming true sooner than we think.
This still very much a work-in-progress technology, created with funding from DARPA, uses a compact HD display engine that can project images with high contrast that are also meant to be bright enough to be seen outside or, under at least under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Images are relayed to a 1.4 mm polymer waveguide optical lens that fits over the left or right eye, the lens' surface also featuring input and output hologram structures, giving the wearer an interactive heads up display right out of science fiction. The proof? That image above was taken looking through the Thermal and Tactical Monocular Display. Because the projected images were moving, the clarity doesn't quite come through, but I can report that they appear as distinct and present as in the photo above. It's a bit difficult to get the image centered properly, but that was likely because I was bent over, squinting through a fixed lens rather than looking through one worn on my person.
Preliminary specs claim a resolution of 1280X720 (color), a 30 to 50 degree field of view, HDMI or VGA video interface and greater than 500 nits luminance. The lens really is a scant 1.4 mm, as seen above in comparison to an iPhone, and according to the rep with whom I spoke, is designed to be as durable as plastic prescription lenses. The Thermal and Tactical Monocular Display is envisioned to create an interactive relationship between soldiers in the field and behind the lines technical support. For example, with input from remote operators, soldiers could be alerted to incoming aircraft that isn't yet visible (including call signs for friendly aircraft); soldiers could also be shown important strategic data, like the estimated area of effect for a laser-guided airstrike system or most likely location for out-of-eyesight combatants.
Though developed primarily for military use, the technology has vast potential for business and consumer uses as well. Like the tactical version, the Industrial Monocular Display would provide a high degree of interactivity between the wearer and a remote operator. One possible use would be for an offsite observer to issue instructions to the wearer. One example cited would be the ability for the remote operate to send technical data for display in the wearer's field of vision. Another possibility is the ability for a remote operator to draw on their interface, the image then appearing in the wearer's field of vision; this could indicate where the wearer needs to check or what action needs to be taken.
The consumer model would be cheaper and lack those features. As described to me, the idea would be something like a smartphone app displayed in the field of vision. For example, if the user is looking for a restaurant, they could have all options indicated in the lens display and once one is selected, directions to the chosen spot would appear superimposed on the environment around them. I asked if there were plans for smartphone integration - I was told that it's something they're thinking about for the future, but it wouldn't be part of the first issue of the consumer version.
The Industrial Monocular Display and Thermal and Tactical Monocular Display won't come cheap, likely in the 5-10 thousand range per unit, though the final price hasn't been determined. The consumer version will be "considerably" cheaper, but as it is still in the preliminary stages of development, no price information was available.