Few tech products have inspired a more swift and widespread backlash than the ill-fated Google Glass. The computer-and-camera-you-wear-on-your-face concept was a target for mockery and occasionally even violence.

Google is still trying to rework the concept for the enterprise, and Microsoft has seen some success positioning its own HoloLens augmented reality headset as a productivity tool. But still, Silicon Valley insists that for everyday life, receiving notifications in our pockets or on our wrists just isn't good enough: Certainly we want them beamed directly into our retinas, right?

That seems to be the bet that Intel is making with its new prototype smartglasses, dubbed Vaunt.

The Verge was recently given the first chance to try out the new smart specs and reports that they address many of the issues that turned public perception against Glass.

Vaunt has no chunky camera or other hardware protruding from the eyewear frames. In fact, Vaunt is almost indistinguishable from a regular pair of glasses. The only thing that might give it away is the occasional presence of a red dot around your eyes.

This is the low power laser display that projects what is essentially a heads up display into your pupil. You only see it when you look down at it in your field of vision. Look away and focus ahead of you instead, and it's gone.

Intel is still working on what the Vaunt experience will be like, but some suggested uses include getting Yelp ratings for the restaurants you're standing in front of or teaming up with Amazon's Alexa to put a recipe in your field of view in response to a voice command.

But the key question remains: Is a face computer something we really want or need?

At the moment, I suspect the answer is probably no for most people. But much of life in the 21st century is centered on digital devices that we didn't know we wanted or needed in the 1990s, so maybe that's not actually the key question.

The problem with Glass was that it didn't provide enough value to people to balance out the dork factor and perceived invasiveness of walking into a social setting with a camera on your cranium.

Intel's response seems to be to take everything down a few notches.

On its face (ha!), Vaunt offers less utility than Glass and other smartglasses, but it also is the only one that could conceivably be worn without outing yourself as an early-adopting cyborg.

Still, Intel has a heck of a sales and public education campaign ahead of itself to convince consumers that they want to walk around all day with a tiny laser aimed at their retinas.

We are in a society that still has not really adopted or accepted the widespread use of Bluetooth headsets, so it's hard to imagine eyeball lasers becoming a new necessity.

But then again, I do wear a device that literally measures my every step and heartbeat. And I feel a little lost when I'm without the biometric data it provides.

So perhaps if Intel can crack the code of utility that provides personal or social benefit rather than risking social costs, we'll all be checking our email with just a quick twitch of the eye a few years from now.

Published on: Feb 7, 2018
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