Late last week, Bose made a surprising announcement that they would be getting into the augmented reality game. But that’s not a surprise because everyone is. The surprise is that Bose is known for headphones and speakers, so how will AR fit into this into their product line? They believe that the classic approach to AR (glasses) isn’t the way to go because videos can be distracting. Sometimes all you need is relevant information – for example – when does Starbucks open? (I kid, they’re always open, right?) But rather than have that information come to you in a visual form, Bose wants to bring that information to your ear.
Bose plans to ship 10,000 of the glasses to developers and manufacturers this summer – with the intent of partnering with other eyewear companies. How exactly does it work? The Bose AR device combines data from embedded motion sensors with GPS information from your phone, which they connect to via Bluetooth. GPS detects where a user is, and the nine-axis sensor can determine which direction they’re looking and moving. Small, focused speakers then pipe the sound towards your ears. The sound is supposed to be really good, and not overwhelming to others around.
What’s interesting about this idea is that app developers can tag locations to trigger specific audio cues, or they can just use the motion sensors as a head-based gesture control interface. I think that these could be particularly useful for the disability community. Think of someone with low vision wearing these. Rather than having to see the information in their glasses, they are being given that same information verbally. Which is how they get most of their information these days anyway. They might rely on the GPS in their phone, along with some headphones to navigate a busy downtown area. But with these AR glasses, they could get all the information that they need without needing vision to benefit from AR.
This is a good example of universal design. Taking technology – like AR – and finding a way to make it something that everyone can benefit from. Bose has established a $50 million fund for Bose AR developers, and they have listed 11 software partners already. We might even see companies like Ray-Ban and Warby Parker get into this deal. Those are potential partners, but Bose hasn’t confirmed that just yet. Which means, these AR glasses will not be cumbersome. Instead, they are likely something that people want to use. But they don’t plan on stopping there. Bose wants to put this technology in as many devices as possible – like bike helmets, prescription glasses, and even earbuds.
Bose is looking at this from the perspective of the glasses being comfortable. And they’re right. Augmented reality glasses are typically uncomfortable, and kind of weird from a societal perspective. I mean, remember when you saw the first Google Glass? Why this is such a great idea is that Bose is taking the lens part out of it. It’s simply adding audio technology to existing devices in order to provide a product in a different way.