What are smart glasses? The much-desired wearable technology explained

No longer do your specs just help you see things more clearly: smart glasses can link up with your phone, control the volume of your music and even take photographs.

Smart glasses have been cropping up in news coverage for several years, with several high profile experiments such as Google Glass and Snapchat’s Spectacles being tried, tested and in some cases criticised by journalists and industry experts alike. 

We look at what this technology is and how it could transform our lives.

[Read more: ‘Smart glasses’ help the blind see]


Snap Spectacles 2

What do smart glasses do?

Just like with regular spectacles, different smart glasses can do different things. Some claim to be able to change lens depending on the exterior environment, others take photographs of what you can see and post them on your social feed, while some present you with a mini version of your phone's screen display.

What are smart glasses?

The technology behind the smart glasses,  for instance a camera, is built into the lens, while the specs connect wirelessly to your smartphone to transfer data from one to the other. Some are controlled using a small button, while other versions rely purely on audio commands.

But smart glasses aren't just for gadget-hungry early adopters: there’s also a more altruistic side to the technology. It has been posited that smart glasses will be able to help those who are visually impaired or hard of hearing. 

[Read more: Smart glasses spot cancer cells]

Who invented smart glasses?

While people have been wearing glasses since the 13th century, smart glasses have only been on the market in the 21st century, with Google Glass going on sale to the general public in 2014.

Business Insider reported that Babak Parviz, a director at Google X, was the leader behind the Google Glass team and was responsible for their creation. 

Who actually owns a pair of smart glasses?

Not that many people are wearing smart glasses at the moment, and it’s not quite time to swap your trusty specs for their high-tech cousins just yet.

While technology giants have been making smart glasses for a few years now, and Juniper Research predicted that revenues from smart glasses will grow from $327 million (£242.6m) this year to $9 billion (£6.7bn) in 2021, they still remain a pricey and bulky gadget to own.

The now discontinued Google Glass retailed with a $1,500 prototype, and while the $129 (£129.99) Snap Spectacles are cheaper, it’s still a steep price to transfer videos to the Snapchat app. 

Privacy campaigners also reacted to the cameras in Google Glass, with the idea that people could take photographs of other people without anyone knowing raising large concerns.

And, there’s also the aesthetics to consider. Consumers still seem reluctant to wear the headgear out and about at the moment, but with the designs getting ever more user-friendly, perhaps we’ll all be contributing to that $9 billion (£6.7bn) market share in 2021.

[Read more: The National Theatre is trialling smart glasses that display subtitles during live performances]

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