Nearly two years ago, before Google Glass was introduced, Francesco Giartosio started work on augmented reality eyeglasses with Gianluigi Tregnaghi, who developed heads-up displays for air force pilots' helmets, and Andrea Tellatin, who worked on the development of the smartwatch I'm Watch. The result is GlassUp, smartphone-connected eyewear that displays e-mails, tweets, Facebook updates, news, and other data as if it's in the air in front of users' eyes, via a low-powered Bluetooth connection.
GlassUp differs from Google Glass in several ways. It is currently a "receive only" device, lacking mechanisms such as voice input to respond to messages, and it has no camera to take photos or videos. The projected screen is monochrome, with a green or amber transparent background, and it appears near the center of the field of vision, unlike Google Glass, which has a color projection that appears above the eye line.
"GlassUp is like driving in a car and seeing information on the windscreen, while with Google Glass it's like seeing something in the rearview mirror of a car," Giartosio said. "Displaying information near the center of the field of vision causes less strain on the wearer's eye."
GlassUp, like many of the emerging class of augmented reality devices, could be used for a variety of applications, such as real-time feedback displayed for sporting activities, turn-by-turn directions for cyclists, teleprompting, gaming, movie subtitles, sightseeing, real-time translation, and the display of a patient's vital signs during medical procedures. GlassUp has developer APIs that work with Android and iOS, and the company is considering support for Windows.
Google Glass is expected to be available in the same timeframe as GlassUp, but at a significantly higher price. Google Glass features voice recognition and captures 5-megapixel images and video at a 720-pixel resolution, and it includes 16GB of Flash storage synced with Google cloud storage.
As a result of its more bare-bones functionality, GlassUp has longer battery life -- 150 hours standby and 8 hours of normal usage, the company said -- and the cost is lower than Google Glass' projected consumer pricing.
You won't be able to immediately acquire the Italian company's eyewear, but you can place an order for the $399 glasses, with delivery expected in February 2014. If you contribute to GlassUp's $150,000 Indiegogo campaign to fund production, certification, and international patents, you get the glasses for half price when they become available.
In March 2014, GlassUp expects to add a prescription-glasses option as well as a camera to its device, which Giartosio said would be useful for recognizing objects, like paintings in a museum or landmarks, to overlay information. "Developers will decide how to capture images and send them to mobile devices. It could be done in different ways, such as voice control, winking, or gestures. For the time being, it will only be the touch pad on the right side of the frame."
Giartosio also plans to take advantage of the company's location in the heart of Italian eyewear-design country, where companies such as Luxottica, owner of Ray-Ban, Oakley, and Oliver Peoples are headquartered. "Eyeglasses are something people are finicky about, and we've learned that design is important," he said. The current prototypes are based on eyewear worn by dentists, and the more stylish production GlassUp frames will be red on white or green on black.
Google wants to trademark "Glass"
GlassUp hasn't sold a single pair of glasses, but the company is already in a legal tussle with Google over naming rights. In March 2013, a Google trademark lawyer asked GlassUp to withdraw its Italian trademark application, filed on October 26, 2012, for "GlassUp," and to change the company's and the product's name. Google claimed that consumers might get GlassUp confused with its Google Glass.
Google filed trademark applications worldwide for "Glass" on June 26, 2012, covering "computer hardware; computer peripherals; wearable computer peripherals; peripherals for mobile devices; wearable peripherals for mobile devices; computer hardware for remotely accessing and transmitting data; computer peripherals for remotely accessing and transmitting data; peripherals for mobile devices for remotely accessing and transmitting data; computer hardware for displaying data and video; computer peripherals for displaying data and video; peripherals for mobile devices for displaying data and video; computer software."
"We all know that augmented reality is expected to be big in the near future; we will have AR glasses, jackets, hats, whatever. You cannot own those words. If we develop a glove that sends to a PC the movements of my fingers (it's being done, as you know), we can't be inhibited from calling it a Glove, even if it's singular," Giartosio wrote in an e-mail. "Here is even a better example: we have read in the news that Google is developing a technological shoe. Do you really think that you will own the word Shoe for tech shoes from now on?"