Meta Wants to Become the Next Augmented-Reality Glasses Phenom
Just a couple years ago, nobody thought much about wearing computers on their faces. But soon there will be actual differentiation among the competition: Google Glass offers an interface for searching and taking photos without pulling out a smartphone; Oculus Rift is much more immersive, blocking out reality to allow users to see themselves inside a game; Recon Instruments makes goggles (and coming soon, sunglasses) to help skiers and bikers track their activities.
The latest is Meta, an immersive 3-D headset layered on top of the real world. Meta wearers can interact with virtual games, architectural renderings and other 3-D objects by using their hands. The device captures gestures with an outward-facing camera (similar to Kinect or Leap Motion).
Meta launches on Kickstarter today, and is also announcing that it will be participating in the next Y Combinator batch out in Mountain View, Calif. Backers who commit $750 will be promised an early version to be shipped in September of this year.
Meta is a young company developed primarily by a Columbia University undergrad student and his adviser, with 12 more employees recently hired. But it is getting a leg up through compatibility with widely used 3-D game-engine maker Unity Technology, and it has a hardware partnership with Epson, and it aims to get devices to buyers this year. (Correction: An earlier version of this story said Meta already had a partnership with Unity. It does not currently.)
Meta will support the popular Unity 3-D software, so other developers will be able to build applications in an environment where they’re already comfortable. A developer kit is available today.
If Google Glass brings your phone to your face, Meta aims to bring the computing power of a PC to your face, said Meta founder and CEO Meron Gribetz. “Before you can have the phone, you should have the PC,” he argued.
The “meta1” is not pretty; it definitely looks like a camera mounted to giant wraparound stereoscopic glasses. But it does seem like it’s at least close to working. Yesterday, I briefly tried a demo version that was tethered to Gribetz’s laptop, and there seemed to be minimal latency between me wiggling my fingers and moving my hands farther and closer to interact with the virtual spaceships and hovering balls I was seeing.
Gribetz said he is launching the Kickstarter campaign primarily to build awareness of the device, so he set his goal at a relatively low $100,000 in order to sell a few hundred or a thousand of them.