Google acquires smart glasses company North, whose Focals 2.0 won’t ship

Google confirmed today via blog post that it has acquired Canadian smart glasses company North, which began life as human interface hardware startup Thalmic Labs in 2012. The company didn’t reveal any details about the acquisition, which was first reported to be happening by The Globe and Mail, last week. The blog post is authored by Google’s SVP of Devices & Services Rick Osterloh, which cites North’s “strong technology foundation” as a key driver behind the deal.

Osterloh also emphasizes Google’s existing work in building “ambient computing,” which is to say computing that fades into the background of a user’s life, as the strategic reasoning behind the acquisition. North will join Google’s existing team in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, where North is already based, and it will aid with the company’s “hardware efforts and ambient computing future,” according to Osterloh.

In a separate blog post, North’s co-founders Stephen Lake, Matthew Bailey and Aaron Grant discuss their perspective on the acquisition. They say the deal makes sense because it will help “significantly advance our shared vision,” but go on to note that this will mean winding down support for Focals 1.0, the first-generation smart glasses product that North released last year, and cancelling any plans to ship Focals 2.0, the second-generation version that the company had been teasing and preparing to release over the last several months.

Focals received significant media attention following their release, and provided the most consumer-friendly wearable-glasses-computing-interface ever launched. They closely resembled regular optical glasses, albeit with larger arms to house the active computing components, and projected a transparent display overlay onto one frame which showed things like messages and navigation directions.

Around the Focals 1.0 debut, North co-founder and CEO Stephen Lake told me that the company had originally begun developing its debut product, the Myo gesture control armband, to create a way to interact naturally with the ambient smart computing platforms of the future. Myo read electrical pulses generated by the body when you move your arm, and translated that into computer input. After realizing that devices it was designed to work with, including VR headsets and wearable computers like Google Glass, weren’t far enough along for its novel control paradigm to take off, they shifted to addressing the root of the problem with Focals.

Focals had some major limitations, however, including initially requiring that anyone wanting to purchase them go into a physical location for fitting, and then return for adjustments once they were ready. They were also quite expensive, and didn’t support the full range of prescriptions needed by many existing glasses-wearers. Software limitations, including limited access to Apple’s iMessage platform, also hampered the experience for Apple mobile device users.

North (and Myo before it) always employed talented and remarkable mechanical electronics engineers sourced from the nearby University of Waterloo, but its ideas typically failed to attract the kind of consumer interest that would’ve been required for sustained independent operation. The company had raised nearly $ 200 million in funding since its founding; as mentioned, no word on the total amount Google paid, but it doesn’t seem likely to have been a blockbuster exit.

In an email to North customers, the company also said it would be refunding the full amount paid for any Focals purchases — likely to defray any complaints about the end of software support, which occurs relatively soon, on July 31, 2020.

Startups – TechCrunch

Apple to reportedly debut its first mainstream AR glasses with sleek design in 2022

Apple’s AR glasses have been on speculations for years now, with various patents dating back to 2015. But things got exciting when Apple announced ARKit at WWDC back in 2017, making it clear that the Cupertino giant is serious about the AR business. 

According to the analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the first iteration of Apple’s AR headset could arrive in 2022 at the earliest. This falls in line with the reports from Taiwanese site DigiTimes and The Information, which said that Apple’s glass could launch in 2022 as suppliers work to ramp up development. 

The rumours circulating on the Internet indicates that Apple’s first headset will look similar to Facebook’s Oculus Quest but with few changes in the design department. Furthermore, the reports from Bloomberg said that Apple’s headset is expected to offer a combination of both AR and VR experience and would be designed for gaming, entertainment, and communication. 

Apple AR headsets are expected to feature a high-res display and likely to be reliant on iPhone for processing power considering it’s sleek built. On the software front, the headsets are expected to be shipped with realityOS (rOS). 

Apple acquires NextVR!

On the other hand, Apple has confirmed the acquisition of VR events startup NextVR. Based out of California, NextVR allows the fully immersive content to be streamed with pristine quality using current home and mobile Internet connections. While 9to5Mac reports acquisition value at $ 100 million, Apple didn’t disclose any figures as such. 

In a way of confirming NextVR website has disappeared and there is a message saying, “We’re heading in a new direction” and “thanked its partners and fans around the world for the role you played in building this awesome platform for sports, music and entertainment experiences in Virtual Reality.”

The VR company provided VR experiences for viewing live events with headsets from Oculus, HTC, PlayStation, Microsoft, and Lenovo headsets. Also, the startup tied-up with news organisation CNN and sports leagues like NASCAR and NBA to broadcast special events and games in VR. 

Launched in 2009 by David Cole, and DJ Roller, NextVR has more than 26 patents granted or pending for the capture, compression, transmission, and display of virtual reality content.

Main image credits: Martin Hajek/iDropnews

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The post Apple to reportedly debut its first mainstream AR glasses with sleek design in 2022 appeared first on Silicon Canals .

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3D-printed glasses startup Fitz is making custom protective eyewear for healthcare workers

A lot of startups have answered the call for more personal protective equipment (PPE) and other essentials to support healthcare workers in their efforts to curb the spread and impact of COVID-19. One of those is direct-to-consumer 3D-printed eyewear brand Fitz, which is employing its custom-fit glasses technology to build protective, prescription specs for front-line healthcare workers in need of the best protection they can get.

Fitz Protect is a version of Fitz’s eyewear that uses the same custom measurement tool Fitz created for use via its iOS app, made possible by Apple’s depth-sensing Face ID camera on newer iPhones and all iPad Pro models. The app allows virtual try-on, and provides millimeter-level accurate measurements for a custom fit. Protect is a version of the glasses that still supports a wide range of prescriptions, but that also extends further like safety glasses to provide more coverage and guard against errant entry of any fluids through the eyes.

Healthcare professionals are doing what they can to ensure their face, mouth, nose and eyes are protected from any coughs, sneezes or other droplet-spreading activity from COVID-19 patients that could pass on the infection. These measures have more broadly focused on face shields that feature a single transparent plastic sheet, and N95  masks (and alternatives when not available) to protect the mouth and nose.

Fitz CEO Gabriel Schlumberger explained via email that the design for Fitz Protect came from working front-line doctors and nurses from New York, LA and Texas who were all looking for something to source prescription protective eyewear.

“More than 60% of doctors are glasses wearers, and current guidance is for them to stop wearing contact lenses,” Schlumberger explained, adding that Fitz Protect is also designed to be worn in conjunction with a face shield, when that’s an available option, to provide yet another layer of defense.

“We heard from prescription glasses wearers that their standard glasses didn’t provide anywhere near adequate coverage, especially over the eyebrows, and in some cases they were adding cardboard cut-outs,” he said. “We leveraged our existing system to create something much better. ”

Fitz’s model also helps on the pricing side because it’s already designed to be an aggressively cost-competitive offering when compared to traditional prescription eyewear. Their glasses typically retail for just $ 95 including frames, lenses and shipping, and are also offered in a $ 185 per year unlimited frame membership plan. For doctors, nurses and hospital staff, the entire cost of Fitz Protect is being waived, and the company is seeking donations to help offset its own manufacturing costs, which currently stand at around $ 100 per set, though process improvements should bring that down, according to Schlumberger, as they expand availability.

Already, he said that nearly 3,000 healthcare professionals have signed up to receive a pair in their first week of availability, so they’re working on adding scale to keep up with the unexpected demand.

Startups – TechCrunch

Chinese startup Rokid pitches COVID-19 detection glasses in US

Thermal imaging wearables used in China to detect COVID-19 symptoms could soon be deployed in the U.S.

Hangzhou based AI startup Rokid is in talks with several companies to sell its T1 glasses in America, according to Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan.

Rokid is among a wave of Chinese companies creating technology to address the coronavirus pandemic, which has dealt a blow to the country’s economy. 

Per info Guan provided, Rokid’s T1 thermal glasses use an infrared sensor to detect the temperatures of up to 200 people within two minutes from as far as three meters. The devices carry a Qualcomm CPU, 12 megapixel camera and offer augmented reality features — for hands free voice controls — to record live photos and videos.

The Chinese startup (with a San Francisco office) plans B2B sales of its wearable devices in the U.S. to assist businesses, hospitals and law enforcement with COVID-19 detection, according to Guan.

Rokid is also offering IoT and software solutions for facial recognition and data management, as part of its T1 packages.

Image Credits: Rokid

The company is working on deals with U.S. hospitals and local municipalities to deliver shipments of the smart glasses, but could not disclose names due to confidentiality agreements.

One commercial venture that could use the thermal imaging wearables is California based e-commerce company Weee!.

The online grocer is evaluating Rokid’s T1 glasses to monitor temperatures of its warehouse employees throughout the day, Weee! founder Larry Liu confirmed to TechCrunch via email.

On procedures, to manage those who exhibit COVID-19 related symptoms —  such as referring them for testing — that’s something for end-users to determine, according to Rokid. “The clients can do the follow-up action, such as giving them a mask or asking to work from home,” Guan said.

The T1 glasses connect via USB and can be set up for IoT capabilities for commercial clients to sync to their own platforms. The product could capture the attention of U.S. regulators, who have become increasingly wary of Chinese tech firms’ handling of American citizen data. Rokid says it doesn’t collect info from the T1 glasses directly.

“Regarding this module…we do not take any data to the cloud. For customers, privacy is very important to them. The data measurement is stored locally,” according to Guan.

Image Credits: Rokid

Founded in 2014 by Eric Wong and Mingming Zhu, Rokid raised $ 100 million at the Series B level in 2018. The business focuses primarily on developing AI and AR tech for applications from manufacturing to gaming, but developed the T1 glasses in response to China’s COVID-19 outbreak.

The goal was to provide businesses and authorities a thermal imaging detection tool that is wearable, compact, mobile and more effective than the common options.

Large scanning stations, such as those used in airports, have drawbacks in not being easily portable and handheld devices — with infrared thermometers — pose risks.

“You have to point them to people’s foreheads…you need to be really close, it’s not wearable and you’re not practicing social distancing to use those,” Guang said.

Rokid pivoted to create the T1 glasses shortly after COVID-19 broke out in China in late 2019. Other Chinese tech startups that have joined the virus-fighting mission include face recognition giant SenseTime — which has installed thermal imaging systems at railway stations across China — and its close rival Megvii, which has set up similar thermal solutions in supermarkets.

On Rokid’s motivations, “At the time we thought something like this can really help the frontline people still working,” Guang said.

The startup’s engineering team developed the T1 product in just under two months. In China, Rokid’s smart glasses have been used by national parks staff, in schools and by national authorities to screen for COVID-19 symptoms.

Temperature detectors have their limitation, however, as research has shown that more than half of China’s COVID-19 patients did not have a fever when admitted to hospital.

Source: Johns Hopkins University of Medicine Coronavirus Research Center

The growth rate of China’s coronavirus cases — which peaked to 83,306 and led to 3,345 deaths — has declined and parts of the country have begun to reopen from lockdown. There is still debate, however, about the veracity of data coming out of China on COVID-19. That led to a row between the White House and World Health Organization, which ultimately saw President Trump halt U.S. contributions to the global body this week.

As COVID-19 cases and related deaths continue to rise in the U.S., technological innovation will become central to the health response and finding some new normal for personal mobility and economic activity. That will certainly bring fresh facets to the common tech conundrums — namely measuring efficacy and balancing benefits with personal privacy.

For its part, Rokid already has new features for its T1 thermal smart glasses in the works. The Chinese startup plans to upgrade the device to take multiple temperature readings simultaneously for up to four people at a time.

“That’s not on the market yet, but we will release this very soon as an update,” said Rokid’s U.S. Director Liang Guan .

Startups – TechCrunch