Osterhout Design Group launches new smart glasses as company bridges consumer, industrial applications

ODG is raising its profile with smart glasses aimed at consumers at CES 2017, but the real use cases reside with enterprises and government. We spoke with Pete Jameson, ODG's operating chief.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Osterhout Design Group recently raised $58 million with a plan to expand its smart glasses and augmented reality footprint from government and enterprise customers to consumers. At the Consumer Electronics Show, ODG made good on its expansion plans as it unveiled its R-8 and R-9 smart glasses.

At CES 2017, ODG highlighted how its new smart glasses are designed to complement existing devices, provide augmented reality experiences and 3D interfaces for gaming. Specifically, ODG introduced the R-8 and R-9, two smart glass devices designed to bridge work and consumer applications. The R-8 will access familiar phone apps on a private screen that floats in your view. There are also augmented reality and virtual reality uses. ODG's bet is that headworn devices will replace other screens, but for now smart glasses will be worn and removed frequently.

The R-9 has a 50 degree field of view and a 1080p platform. The R-9 is designed for prosumer and light enterprise uses. ODG's headsets are aimed at bringing entertainment and work uses. The ODG smart glasses land as Lenovo entered the fray earlier on Tuesday.

Also: CNET CES 2017 coverage | The 4 tech trends that will shape 2017, predicted by ZDNet editors

What's unclear is how fast the consumer smart glasses market will take off. ODG's smart glasses historically have revolved around a full computing platform in eyewear. While Google Glass popularized the notion of smart glasses for the enterprise--ODG and Vuzix could send Google a thank you note--computing specs faced some backlash for the masses.

Enter ODG. We caught up with Pete Jameson, chief operating officer of ODG, to talk about how smart glasses and augmented reality is working for businesses. While the consumer move is notable there's real work being done. Here's a recap of our chat with Jameson and what you need to know about ODG, which will raise its profile at CES, but has had plenty of traction on its own.

Previously: Osterhout Design Group raises $58 million to boost its smartglasses lineup

The ODG history. Ralph Osterhout, CEO of ODG, incorporated his namesake company in 1999 almost as a think tank as he focused on other areas. By the late 2000s, ODG was focused on government and "man packable computers," explained Jameson. ODG worked on smartphones with fingerprints and biometrics and multicore portable servers that could be used by the military in the field. "Headworn displays became a big focus for us in 2010. We wanted manpackable computers in glasses form. A lot of it is classified, but you could capture face comparisons with watch lists and relevant information that would be pulled from a server," said Jameson. That government focus bridged to the enterprise nicely and business accelerated courtesy of Google Glass.

Enterprise interest. Jameson said that ODG started garnering enterprise interest after its government success. "The enterprise was a natural way to broaden our footprint," he said. "We got into the enterprise to understand where the opportunity was with B2B. There were applications in healthcare, transportation and logistics. All of those use cases were going on early with our government customers," said Jameson. The enterprise use cases began to become more visible to ODG in 2013. ODG's R6 smart glasses were the first entry into the industrial market because it was designed for government use, but has broad applications from the armed forces to agencies. The R7 device, in the market for about a year, was the first product that pushed into the enterprise completely.

The impact of Google Glass. Google Glass was a "boon to the industry," said Jameson. "Google Glass brought awareness and an introduction to use cases even if Google was aggressive with what it could actually do," said Jameson. "Google Glass was very helpful to us." Indeed, the largest Google Glass developer, Advanced Medical Applications, became ODG's largest partner when it saw the R7, which is built on an Android core. "Google educated the marketplace with awareness and use cases. Google also pulled developers into the market," said Jameson. Advanced Medical Applications still develops for Google Glass as well as ODG and Vuzix.

Will consumers give smart glasses a shot? Jameson noted that the consumer market has a lot of potential, but is complex. The difference between the enterprise and consumer market is that smart glasses are a work tool that must be worn. "The consumer market is in the early days, but it will still be about what the product does and use cases. Google Glass was positioned as a connected camera display and you walked around with it," said Jameson. ODG could find a niche in the consumer space as a "heads up computer." In that respect, smart glasses could be used purposefully and gain adoption like tablets did, he added. "In the early days of the tablet it was used because it was easier and simpler to do tasks you'd do before. It's early days, but I see that as well for smart glasses," said Jameson.

Industries for smart glasses. Jameson said healthcare is the "biggest market opportunity we see right now." Healthcare providers are using smart glasses to interact with patients, perform medical procedures and use telepresence. Transportation including large equipment, assembly and inspection is also a large vertical. Energy, oil and gas and logistics are other key areas. "Engineering and construction is also emerging. The ability to take a 3D CAD model, project those and interact is powerful," said Jameson. Education is another area with promise.

Returns and leading uses. Jameson said there are roughly a handful of drivers for smart glass adoption for business and there are some overlaps. Here's the breakdown:

  • Telepresence and remote expert. Multiple industries need the ability to have connection between a person doing a task and a remote expert. The ROI is clear, says Jameson. If something goes down, you don't need to put that expert on a plane. Training is also a big use case.
  • Augmented reality. Overlays such as information, step-by-step instructions, video tutorial and inspections are key for augmented reality uses. Jameson said there is typically industries that combine augmented reality and telepresence.
  • Heads up displays. In this use case, smart glasses replace monitors. This screen swap allows a doctor to look at a patient instead of a monitor. A driver can operate a vehicle and get new information.
  • 3D visualization. Engineers are increasingly using AR and smart glasses to bring an object up, create a visual representation and then walk around it.

Maturity of implementations. Jameson said that health care has the most implementation traction, but isn't the most mature market. Jameson said healthcare has the most consistent adoption, but is more about the pilots and first phase implementations (pilots) in real work environments. Healthcare does have some mature applications along with transportation, but most deployments are early. Enterprises are working smart glasses into the overall workflow, developing content and the connectivity on the backend. Jameson noted that there aren't many third phase use cases where smart glasses are involved with the day-to-day workflow and integrated into processes. Many enterprises are between the pilot and a second phase where smart glasses are clearly a useful tool.

Coming from Lenovo: Smart glasses for the enterprise

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