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You’ve probably heard of Google Glass, a brand of optical smart glass that displays information in a smartphone-like, hands-free format. This product, as is the case with many other smart glasses, works by overlaying digital objects and information over your real-world view out of the glasses. This, in my opinion, seems like it might be rather distracting, even if they do offer a useful service like counting calories. Augmented reality (AR) glasses have viable applications as well in design and engineering and are becoming more integrated into smart manufacturing workflows.

Audio equipment company Bose, well-known for its high-end speakers and headphones, has developed sunglasses that provide context and data through sound in order to augment reality, rather than visual information through a camera and a screen.

The company introduced its augmented reality sunglasses at SXSW (South by Southwest) in Texas this week, which is where many innovative companies choose to debut their latest creative work each year.

The AR sunglasses look pretty much like any other pair of sunglasses, and according to a Mashable article by Raymond Wong, the 3D printed prototype pair he tried on was “specifically designed to not draw attention in public.”

“Even though they were prototypes, I was impressed by the fit,” Wong wrote. “They’re super light and don’t weigh your face down. All of the electronics, including the battery, are stored inside of the stems.”

Like many other companies, Bose chose to 3D print its product prototype, rather than use a conventional manufacturing method. This can save time and money in the product design and development process, even if the technology won’t work for commercial production.

The Bose AR sunglasses have many great features, including letting you listen to music without bothering the people around you – just like you’re wearing a pair of headphones, instead of sunglasses.

This feat was accomplished by building two narrow directional speakers into the end of each stem. The speakers will send the audio directly into your ears without the use of earbuds, and no one else can hear your music unless they actually press themselves up against the sunglasses…in which case, I suggest you walk away from the person quickly.

The sound quality of the AR sunglasses is also exceptional, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given Bose’s reputation for excellent sound quality.

“I expected the sound to be average given how thin the speakers are, but was honestly blown away by the clarity,” Wong wrote.

The Bose AR sunglasses also know, even without the use of a camera, what you’re looking at when you’re wearing them, thanks to on-board motion sensors that work with GPS coordinates from a paired smartphone to detect the direction you’re facing.

By looking at a specific landmark and double-tapping one of the sunglass stems, you can instantly receive audio information through the speakers. In the future, Bose hopes to partner with content providers and integrate their data, so users will only need to look at something like a restaurant or store to instantly have access to spoken ratings and reviews through the AR sunglasses.

Enter the company’s new $50 million venture fund – Bose is investing in other companies to get some help in building out its AR sunglasses into a viable platform. It’s already got some pretty big names signed on, including Yelp, TuneIn, Trip Advisor, ASICS Studio, and Strava.

[Image: Karissa Bell/Mashable]

Bose’s goal is not only to introduce the services of these content providers onto its own hardware. The company also wants others to, as Wong put it, “build its AR audio tech into other form factors like headphones and helmets.”

One of the coolest features of the Bose AR sunglasses is that they actually recognize gestures you make with your head. For example, if someone is calling you while you’re wearing a pair, you can shake your head to decline the call, or nod to answer it. In addition, you can rotate your head to the left or to the right in order to choose an item off of an audio-based carousel menu.

Before you get too excited about answering your phone just by nodding your head, the Bose AR sunglasses will not have a wide release any time soon. However, limited quantities of the product that have been “tweaked” a little will be released this summer, though we don’t know yet how much they will cost.

The Bose Developer Portal reads, “Imagine a world where everything you see is more valuable, more emotional, and more meaningful — because of what you hear. Introducing Bose AR, the world’s first audio augmented reality platform.”

An SDK of the Bose AR sunglasses will also be available this summer for developers.

What do you think of these augmented reality sunglasses? Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[Images: Raymond Wong/Mashable, unless otherwise credited]

 

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