What is the Smart Glass Market

The big comeback of data glasses

It actually started out quite promising: When the Google Glass came onto the market in 2014, many observers spoke of the most courageous decision at the interface between augmented reality and wearables. A pair of glasses that show the wearer additional information in the field of vision and record videos and pictures by swiping. A gadget that delighted techies, but the majority of consumers didn't want to accept at the time: What if the weird guy in the bar films me without my noticing?

People wearing a Google Glass were not only looked at from an angle, they were even beaten in Google's hometown of San Francisco and cursed as "Glassholes". In addition, the first version struggled with short battery life after a modification and became too warm during operation. The plans for a broad market launch in the USA were quickly discarded, and the test phase with the $ 1,500 glasses was discontinued. The topic of data glasses - it seemed at the time - ended sooner than expected.

But the technology has been making a furious comeback for a few months now. The list of companies that are seriously concerned with the topic is getting bigger and bigger: In February, Deutsche Telekom founded the joint venture Tooz Technologies with the optics specialists from Zeiss, which develops smart glasses. The US chip giant Intel is launching a smartglass called "Vaunt". Amazon is apparently working on data glasses that are controlled by the voice assistant Alexa. And the pioneer Vuzix only presented its new "Blade" model at the Mobile World Congress at the beginning of the week.

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Deutsche Telekom and Zeiss also prepared a big stage for their data glasses at the tech fair in Barcelona. "They come very close to normal glasses that you wear on your nose," says Christian Stangier, Senior Vice President Connected Devices at Telekom, who demonstrates the device to visitors at the company booth. The glasses show additional information in the field of vision of the wearer and can be adapted to the individual eyesight.

For example, Telekom envisions using data glasses in logistics, maintenance, or fitness and health applications. Whenever both hands have to be free and images, data and communications should be available at the same time. The main difference to the failed Google Glass lies in this strategy: The data glasses are not marketed as a consumer product, but made ready for use in companies.

Deutsche Telekom and Zeiss found a joint venture for data glasses

At the Mobile World Congress 2017 in Barcelona, ​​Deutsche Telekom and the German optics giant Zeiss announced that they would be working together on data glasses. Now, almost a year later, the companies have set up a joint venture for this endeavor.

Kai Ströder, who heads the new Tooz Technologies joint venture, hopes in the medium term to be able to build a large partner network of companies that use glasses for their own purposes. "In the end, the market will decide whether this device wins or not." For example, Lufthansa has equipped some flight attendants with glasses for a test, which then automatically displays the name and meal order of a passenger. Nurses, doctors and the Polish VR start-up 1000Realities are also testing them.

It remains to be seen whether smart glasses are the next major technological advancement - the sales figures are still very manageable. According to market researchers at IDC, however, the market for such augmented reality devices is growing rapidly: AR headsets are expected to generate around 50 billion dollars by 2021, it is said. "This is the beginning of the age in which you keep your smartphones in your pocket," says Vuzix boss Paul Travers with certainty.

In view of this development, even Google is back in the race. Around two and a half years after the company officially pulled the plug on its controversial data glasses, the "Enterprise Edition" of Google Glass is back in use - it can be combined with safety glasses, a faster processor and a better Internet connection. Several dozen companies use it, including Volkswagen, DHL, Boeing and General Electric. Probably nobody there is insulted as "Glassholes" anymore.ron (with dpa material)