10 best business hands-free and AR headsets

Google Glass bombed. Everyone knows that, but while some got in a fluster about privacy concerns and others wondered if wearable Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) could ever become socially acceptable, the tech industry went ahead and produced a bunch more similar devices.

Google Glass bombed. Everyone knows that, but while some got in a fluster about privacy concerns and others wondered if wearable Head-Mounted Displays (HMDs) could ever become socially acceptable, the tech industry went ahead and produced a bunch more similar devices.

However, this time the HMD is designed not to herald an Orwellian nightmare among the general populace, but rather a hands-free future in the workplace. Some of these devices even offer an exciting augmented reality (AR) dimension.

“Wearables in the workforce are becoming more prominent, as they give workers immediate, direct access to important information, such as profiling healthcare records on a smart glass display,” says Stephanie Lawrence, Research Analyst at ABI Research, which predicts that global wearable device shipments will increase from nearly 202 million in 2016 to more than 500 million by 2021. “This hands-free approach saves time, allowing staff to become more efficient and, ultimately, saving companies money,” she adds.

However, in the HMD market, all is not equal, with the first wave of hands-free second screens now set to be surpassed by a new wave of ambitious AR devices which are on the cusp of production.

So what’s the future of wearables? We’ll tell you here

Although it grabbed the attention of many businesses, the M100 is about as basic as it gets. What all HMDs have in common is that they put a tiny LCD screen in front of the wearer’s eyes, and what the wearer sees is a 2D screen that appears to be some distance in front.

That’s where the similarities end, and this Android-based device is little more than a fixed (and not even transparent) display for hands-free access to e-manuals. First issued in 2013, it also has a Full HD camera and a microphone, and now sports Nuance’s Dragon Dictation speech-to-text software.

Available now – click here to order the Vuzix M100

Price: £799/$970/AU$1,280

The binocular vision offered by these smart glasses gives you something relatively rare in this genre; accurate depth perception. Marketed as an industrial smart headset for use in remote support systems, the Moverio Pro BT-2000 (an industrial version of the BT-200) has a transparent display for overlaying manuals and other data in the field of vision of engineers.

Although it’s equipped with a 5-megapixel camera and allows two-way communications (via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) to let a remote agent see what the wearer is viewing, there’s no AR dimension and it’s all controlled using a wired touchpad that can be used while wearing gloves.

Available now –click here to order the Epson Moverio Pro BT-2000

Price: £2,280/$2,999/AU$3,940

Early headsets for industry promised much, but were hampered slightly by low-resolution screens and restrictive fields of view. That all changes with the Meta 2, which promises not only a 2560 x 1440 pixel resolution, but the widest field of view yet at 90 degrees. Meta 2 uses an on-board camera and positional tracking tech to create a 360-degree interface that moves as its wearer moves. That tracking tech makes it possible to see virtual images, and move them using hand gestures.

Meta 2 Development Kit is now on sale

Price: £780/$949/AU$1,250

Perhaps the most ambitious such product yet, Daqri’s Smart Helmet is more about AR overlays and sensors enabling computer vision. Fitted with an Intel Core m7 processor and Intel RealSense tech, this protective hardhat for industrial environments uses a gyroscope to enable a 360-degree user interface that’s controlled by the wearer turning and focusing on actions for a second or so.

A remote assistant can ‘draw’ on an object in front of the wearer, and in one mode the wearer can even ‘see’ heat, which could radically bolster the capabilities of maintenance engineers.

Developer Edition available end of October 2016

Price: £12,330/$15,000/AU$19,720

Another binocular design with a transparent screen – and even lenses that can be swapped out – ODG’s R-7 builds in a few innovative sensors to create some intriguing AR appeal. Chief among them are sensors for humidity and altitude, though a GPS sensor is probably more useful for most business applications. It’s all powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 chip on the Android-based R-7, which also features a Full HD autofocus camera, dual 720p resolution screens, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Available now – click here to order the ODG R-7

Price: £2,260/$2,750/AU$3,610

Looking more like the competition, albeit with a resolutely industrial appearance, Vuzix will launch its latest Android-based headset, the M300, later in the year. Perhaps the most exciting additions compared to the M100 are a transparent display and head tracking support, which creates a responsive AR device.

Running on an Intel Atom processor, the M300 has Wi-Fi, 16GB storage, a 13-megapixel camera and two microphones. The latter are to aid clarity of voice in busy industrial environments – the M300 is aimed at order-picking in warehouses and all-round hands-free mobile computing.

M300 Developer pre-production unit available now

Price: £1,250/$1,520/AU$1,999

Though it’s not the business all-rounder that most HMDs are, Recon Jet’s niche use is likely to be a trend in AR hardware in years to come. Designed for cyclists – and so perfect for data-hungry cycle couriers wanting to charge fees according to various metrics – the Recon Jet is built around an ARM Cortex-A9 processor.

Obviously the trick here is not to distract the wearer, hence a single transparent display that puts a range of ride statistics into the user’s field of view. Think GPS position, speed, direction, altitude, humidity and more. It even connects to accessories on the bike to incorporate the cyclist’s heart rate and more. A close alternative is the Garmin Varia Vision’s InSight display.

Available now – click here to order the Recon Jet

Price: £360/$499/AU$655

There’s a lot to love about HoloLens, Microsoft’s attempt at AR that’s been marketed for some months. While talk of holograms and a 24-core ‘holographic processor’ is pure marketing spin (this is about on-screen image simulation, and definitely not holograms), HoloLens does create an intriguing AR layer to two-way communications.

Microsoft has demoed the device with a plumber seeing on their Surface tablet what a customer is looking at while wearing the HoloLens, then drawing a circle around a nut that needs tightening [http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/forget-3d-holograms-are-coming-to-smartphones-1322395]. It’s now up to developers to create apps for the device to help push it forward – note that the development edition is just about to come out in the UK, and it’ll be available at the end of next month.

Developer Edition available now in US (November 30 in UK)

Price: £2,719/$3,000/AU$4,369

Awesome next-gen augmented reality is great, but for many business scenarios a hands-free accessory will do the trick. A device that’s designed to be clipped onto existing glasses or goggles, the Croatian-designed Vyoocam is all – and only – about hands-free streaming for one-to-one video chat.

Designed for inspections, maintenance, live customer support and remote expert assistance, the super-light Vyoocam films point-of-view video in 1080p and at 30 frames per second, and uses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth to connect to a phone. All video is handled through a smartphone app for iOS or Android.

Available in January 2017 (pre-orders open now)

Price: £161/$297/AU$258

Oh, there’s that word again: ‘Holographic waveguide technology’ is what’s included inside Sony’s SmartEyeGlass, but again it fails to actually produce holograms. Still, what it does do is pack in a gyroscope, accelerometer, ambient light sensor, camera and binocular vision, with text, symbols and images able to be overlaid onto the wearer’s field of view. Scenarios proffered by Sony include product assembly instructions being relayed to a factory worker in real-time.

Developer Edition available now

Price: £699/$899/AU$1,180

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