Head Rush

Head-Worn Devices Look Hot for the New Year

Head_lHere’s something for safety out of Sweden. Volvo, together with Ericsson and a sports gear company called POC, introduced a prototype connected biker’s helmet that provides riders with a heads up on approaching traffic. Using sensors in the helmet, the cyclist’s real-time location is shared to the cloud and back down to drivers in the vicinity. The wearer also receives information about traffic in the area. It’s a commendable wearables project that could prevent injuries and save lives, and signals the trend for advanced head-worn devices.

From real-world security to virtual reality, all sorts of usage scenarios are being addressed with head-worn devices. The skull is where the action might be for 2015 thanks to low-cost components and early adopters.

The market is getting a kick with some clever technology re-use via Google Cardboard, an inexpensive enabler of virtual reality. Google is offering a reference design to anyone who wants an immediate virtual reality experience by relying upon the sensors and screens of existing smartphones. For a few dollars’ worth of material or about $20 for a ready made version, virtual reality isn’t an exclusive experience any more. These are low-tech solutions — the paper-based products simply support screens in front of their owner’s eyes — but cardboard could mean some serious business for the virtual reality ecosystem.

At these initial stages, the excitement about virtual-reality devices is very real and very encouraging. Samsung began shipping its Gear VR product in the US two weeks ago, with the special Innovator Edition intended for virtual reality developers and enthusiasts. The $200 head-worn companion to the Galaxy Note 4 was sold via AT&T and Samsung’s sites, and was out of stock the next day. It’s been in and out of stock a few times since.

Sony has long been active in head-mounted displays and is expected to push several head-worn devices during 2015. The company announced last week that it is developing a heads-up display that can be attached to an ordinary pair of eyeglasses to turn everyday eyewear into a smart device. The yet-unnamed product floats a small OLED screen in front of the wearer, displaying information from the Internet and sensors. Use cases shown by Sony include a display presenting the user with live maps, running pace and the sweet spot of a tennis swing. The company is offering an SDK for developers.

Brainwave devices are another trending head-worn category. Products from companies such as Emotiv and NeuroSky are bringing mind-reading accessories to the masses. The concept seemed farfetched only a few years ago, but these have become reasonably priced items available through ordinary retail channels. Thinkput is going mainstream. Expect more brain-hugging products during the coming year, some with claims of health benefits and mental exercises.

The initial excitement about Google Glass has faded, but the concept of head-worn devices is just gaining steam. The eyes, the ears and the mind are where much of the body’s action’s at, and bringing wearables to the same level makes sense. CCS Insight expects major trade shows in 2015 to be top-heavy with head-centric products and content. Whether consumers will jump onto the conspicuous consumption of such devices is less certain.