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July 6, 2017

Engineered for fighter pilots, now these AR goggles are built for bikers

by John_A

Why it matters to you

The Everysight Raptor, a new augmented reality goggle designed for cyclists, are a model for heads-up displays.

“You put them on like a pair of glasses,” Eyal Ovadia, head of user interface design at Everysight, told me. He was referring to the pair of glasses resting on my forehead — the Raptor — as I wheeled a bicycle toward New York City’s Central Park. Ovadia calls them “smartglasses” to distinguish them from run-of-the-mill sports goggles in conversation and not without good reason — their sleek, low-profile design makes them tough to differentiate from the goggles you’re likely to find on a Field & Stream sales rack.

Israel-based Everysight, a spin-off of defense contractor Elbit Systems and the firm behind the Raptor, engineered heads-up displays for fighter jet pilots before pivoting to the consumer market. It wasn’t a walk in the park, Ovadia said — the company invested hundreds of millions of dollars to shrink its augmented reality technology down to goggle size.

“We needed screens that could be applied in the consumer space,” Ovadia said. “We needed to build a pair of smartglasses.”

An idea a decade in the making

Everysight pitched the idea in 2005 and over the course of the next decade, tapped studies, consumer surveys, and analyses of failed competitors to refine the goggle’s design. In 2014, after countless false starts, incremental iterations, and field-ready prototypes, the team settled on a market-ready design: A goggles-inspired headset with a forward-facing display.

“We needed screens that could be applied in the consumer space.”

The secret sauce turned out to be the display technology. Everysight calls it Beam and it uses a tiny projector embedded in the Raptor’s nose rest to shoot light toward the eyepiece’s mirror lenses. The lenses then reflect the light into the back of the wearer’s retina which produces a hovering, see-through image overlayed on line-of-sight scenery.

“It’s a very energy-efficient solution,” Ovadia added. “It produces a bright image without using a lot of battery.”

Beam’s low power draw left headroom for the Raptor’s other components. The headset boasts a quad-core processor paired with 2GB of RAM, a battery that lasts up to eight hours on a single charge, and a high-resolution front-facing camera that shoots still pictures and videos. A bevy of sensors including an accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, barometer, GPS and GLONASS, and proximity sensor keep tabs on the wearer’s velocity, altitude, and location, and a built-in microphone and speaker power voice recognition.

“We wanted to make something people would be comfortable wearing in public,” Ovadia pointed out. “We wanted to engineer something stylish.”

A Central Park field test

I certainly felt dapper wearing the Raptor on a two-mile bike ride through Central Park. The adjustable head strap fit snugly around my forehead, and the front-facing display rested comfortably on the upper bridge of my nose like a pair of oversized sunglasses. Getting the Raptor’s menu in focus required some finagling but the goggles did a remarkable job of staying in place during a ride through one of Central Park’s bumpiest commuter routes.

By default, the Raptor shows basic stats like speed, distance, and cadence — a training mode also highlights optimal speed and velocity compared to your current rate. But for the purposes of my demo, Everysight provided a Polar heart rate monitor that reported real-time heart rate on the Raptor’s display via Bluetooth ANT+.

All of the accumulated data syncs to a forthcoming companion app for Android and iOS devices, which beams it to Everysight’s cloud storage service. Session stats can be viewed on the web or third-party fitness and cycling apps or shared via social media.

But some of the goggles’ most useful interactions happen on the Raptor itself. Say, “Hey Everysight,” and you’ll see a list of hands-free voice commands like, “record a video,” or, “take a picture.”

Everysight, which is developing a slimmer, sleeker pair of augmented reality glasses intended for a broader audience.

The Raptor’s turn-by-turn navigation feature pulls up a map of your location, replete with terrain markers, roads, trails, and nearby points of interest — if you’re cycling with a Raptor-sporting buddy, he or she appears on the map as a blinking colored dot, too. You can also stream tunes from a paired smartphone using the Raptor’s built-in microphone and speaker, or answer an incoming call.

The goggles’ camera is nothing to scoff at, either. Capable of shooting clear, sharp footage in high definition, the Raptor stores these photos on its own internal memory — of which is transferrable to a PC via microUSB cable. I was especially impressed by how vibrantly the Raptor rendered the tops of Manhattan’s off-color skyscrapers, which tend to be difficult to capture on bright sunny days.

Customer criticism paves the road to the future

Everysight has taken pains to address the concerns of cyclists who’ve been given early access to the Raptor’s features. The goggles’ Grilamid TR-90 frame is IP55 certified against exposure to dust and water, ships with swappable prescription lenses, and illuminates a front-facing LED to indicate when it’s recording — Everysight even offers a bundled model which comes with a Bluetooth remote controller and heart rate monitor.

But Everysight sees the Raptor as just the beginning.

In a hotel suite a few blocks away from our breezy (but slightly sweaty) bike tour, Ovadia walked me through an interface the company’s been working on: An Android-based menu of apps, widgets, and animated icons that a wearer navigates by moving their head to the left or right. A dot-shaped pointer expanded when I rested my gaze on an app icon — Ovadia had me look straight ahead at a mock-up Facebook app that expanded into a timeline of status updates.

Everysight’s testing third-party apps on the new interface, too. I tried a version of Sky Map, a digital planetarium optimized for Everysight’s new software. As I looked upward toward the sky, I could see a star chart overlay of labeled constellations, planets, and other solar points of interest.

“We see it as a concept that will evolve over time,” Ovadia added. “We’re thinking about apps that overlay data on top of the real world. You can imagine digital arrows in the distance over recommended restaurants, or makers that show what parking spots are available.”

Everysight, which is developing a slimmer, sleeker pair of augmented reality glasses intended for a broader audience, plans to release a software development kit later this year. It does have its work cut out for it, however — weak sales and controversies forced the uber-massive Google to can Glass, its take on an everyday AR display.

Everysight’s intent on avoiding its forebear’s pitfalls, with Ovadia ending our conversation by saying, “We’re hard at work on it and we’ll take all of the feedback under careful consideration.”




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