North

Sub $1,000 smart glasses are a reality now

From North is trying to become the Warby Parker of augmented reality glasses – The Verge

The glasses show wearers a bunch of information from their phone; can call an Uber; and are extremely customizable to the point of requiring a 3D model of each wearers’ face to make them work.

Lake and his team took me through the purchasing process, which involves sitting in a dark room surrounded by 16 cameras and one attendant. I had to put my hair back in a cotton headband (that I got to keep!) and line my face up with a pair of software-created glasses on a screen. The cameras then took a bunch of photos simultaneously to create a 3D model of my ears, nose, eyes, and face.

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Each Focals pair features a tiny, color laser in the right arm that displays information from your phone over Bluetooth. That laser bounces off a piece of photopolymer material built into the glasses’ right lens, then heads into your eye. It creates a 15-degree viewing area that’s about 300 x 300 pixels.

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North built custom software for the glasses and designed the UI in-house. It’s colorful with slight animations that I think look nice. You can view your messages, send automated responses that North crafted through SMS, call an Uber, get turn-by-turn directions through Mapbox, view your calendar, and check the weather.

The image will automatically disappear after three seconds of non-use, which I wish came with the option to be extended.

Each pair has enough battery to last 18 hours, North says, and can be recharged only through their companion case. This case also charges the essential Focals accessory: the Loop. The Loop is a plastic ring with a joystick-like button that looks like any plastic smart ring you’ve seen on the market. It’s bulky and doesn’t look so nice, but it allows wearers to swipe through their glasses’ interface without having to touch their glasses or do something with their head. A ring makes way more sense to me, although again, it’s ugly.

You can swipe through your notifications by pushing left or right on the Loop joystick and pressing down to make a selection. You can also use it to trigger Amazon’s Alexa assistant because yes, Alexa is built-in. The glasses have a microphone and speaker inside, so you can issue commands to Alexa and hear responses if necessary. (Amazon was a leading investor in North’s Series B funding.)

A pair costs $999, which includes lenses, the prescription, anti-glare coatings, and the fitting.

Still far away from a mainstream product, but getting there. Dangerously fast. In fact, Amazon is a leading investor.

Also, it will be interesting to see what the scientific and medical community finds out about a laser projected on a human retina in terms of attention reduction and/or sleep pattern disruption.