Most augmented reality (AR) glasses and headsets focus on enhancing what you see by placing digitally-rendered visuals onto the real world. Bose, known for its high-end audio products, is taking a different route.
The company has announced a new AR wearable platform designed to augment your reality not with sight, but with sound. The first device to demonstrate this is a pair of glasses that won't change what you see, but rather add a useful or enjoyable 'audible layer' to what you hear.
The crux of the Bose AR glasses is that they know what you're looking at, and play sound to complement the experience. This could mean playing a historical figure's most famous speech while you're looking at a monument, an audio-tour type explanation of a painting, or translating a sign that's in another language while you're traveling.
Music, of course, is also available to listen to, and you can use the glasses like a pair of headphones with the added benefit of controlling your playlists without having to take out your phone.
Users will control the glasses through head gestures, like nodding, as well as with voice and short taps. The glasses have sensors to track head motion, and rely on a phone's GPS for location awareness.
All of the gathered data is sent back to an app, which then produces real-time audio content to match where you are and what you are doing.
The glasses pair over Bluetooth with iOS and Android phones, allowing you to take calls, and Bose said it's developed a new technology that keeps conversations private (at least on one end).
Bose has developed a tiny, super-slim 'acoustics package' for its AR platform, which can be built into just about any wearable device, including headphones, helmets and eyewear. It has several developer and manufacturing partners lined up to create Bose AR-based gadgets, including Strava, TripAdvisor and Yelp, as well as academic partnerships with the MIT Media Lab and the NYU Future Reality Lab.
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Bose plans to invest up to $50 million in startups that build apps, services and technologies based on the Bose AR platform. It will make the SDK available sometime between June and September.
As to whether you can buy a pair of Bose AR glasses yourself, the chances are slim. 'Limited quantities' of the glasses, which will be refined and updated, will be available in the summer, and even then likely only to developers.
Bose's approach is unique in a landscape where every major tech company is scrambling to find ways to integrate AR into devices. The latest is the Samsung Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S9 Plus, which feature the novel AR Emoji.
In most applications, AR is more 'cool to have' than 'need to have.' The Bose AR platform seems to fall into the former category, at least right now. But, depending on what apps and devices are created, it could prove essential for travelers, museum-goers and music lovers who want excellent contextual awareness.
We'll wait to see, er, hear what the future holds for the Bose AR platform, but it's certainly worth keeping an eye – we mean – ear on. You know what we mean...
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