Google Glass

Google's Glass system is all over the press at the moment. Google's got so much money to invest in the tech, and experience from Android on tablets and smartphones that it's likely to be a success. It's even not overly geeky-looking as it stands, and Google has got plans for more stylish versions.

Vuzix M100

Vuzix's M100 AR system may hit the market long before Google, although it's a slightly different beast. In use it displays a screen in front of the wearer's eye that looks like a typical smartphone screen held at arm's length--and it runs Android. Whether this means it'll be capable of more interaction than Glass isn't yet known though. It's also going to cost a third of what Google's currently charging.

Vuzix Wrap 1200 AR

Vuzix has long been in the business of both virtual reality and augmented reality headgear. This is their latest system targeted at more professional users--it essentially marries a VR headset with a pair of forward-looking cameras, and is a development of earlier systems that had poorer resolution screens.

Olympus MEG4

Olympus rushed out some details on its MEG4 AR system in mid 2012, not long after Google's splashy Glass PR effort kicked into gear. It's another Bluetooth-connected smartphone partner device, and it's targeted at consumers...but Olympus has shared little about its availability date or its price yet.

Canon Mixed Reality

Olympus's fierce rival in the camera market, Canon, has its own augmented reality effort. And it's a very serious high-end one. Introduced last year, and then highlighted in a new press effort this week, Canon's system is aimed at professional users who could use it for designing cars. It's called "Mixed Reality" because it tracks the user precisely in 3-D and superimposes real-time 3-D computer imagery. That's why it costs a chunky $125,000.

Eurofighter helmet

AR is also something the military take pretty seriously. This monstrous-looking thing is the helmet system for Eurofighter pilots. As well as delivering a very high-tech in-eye data system to help the pilot fly the aircraft, manage its systems, and engage an enemy with weapons, it also tracks head movements so the system knows what relevant info to display and when. It took decades to develop, looks suitably badass...and don't even begin to talk about the price.

Apple patents

And lastly where would we be without Apple in this game? Steve Jobs' old firm has patents a-plenty in all sorts of different fields...and it's got more than a few relating to AR. This one in particular looks a lot like Google's effort... There have been rumors Apple's looking for the natural successor to its smartphone device in systems like this headset. The real deal probably would look much more attractive when worn, though, if Jon Ive had anything to do with it.

6 Visions Of Augmented Reality That Aren't Google Glass

Google's goggles lead the charge by a heap of huge tech companies that view the future through augmented lenses.

Google has one hell of a runway to augmented reality in its Google Glass—there's this week's PR blitz and news that Warby Parker could finally help lend some style to Google's goggles. (There are still plenty of challenges to consider.) And it's pushing developers to build augmented reality apps we can't even imagine yet. But Google won't necessarily rule a new augmented reality—we've been imaging visions of this future for too long.

I can still vividly remember a trip down to London's Trocadero center to play on some Virtual Reality arcade games about 20 years ago. Virtual reality was a fad in the 1990s, though it was severely limited by the era's tech. Augmented reality is kind of the redheaded stepsister of these systems. It requires more modern tech power, and is probably more useful than an immersive "alternate" world like virtual reality promised. It's about adding layers, not supplanting the real world.

AR goggles like Glass let you Google info about jellyfish, while you're looking at some in an aquarium, or they let you seamlessly video-call someone to share the view you've got of some special event. The idea that Google could get its brand in front of your eyes while collecting data on your every move is where the innovation lies.

Thanks to advances in optics, sensors, battery systems, and mobile computing that have come from the smartphone and tablet world, AR is poised to be accessible to many users. It's a tech with fantastic potential, and if you look at trends like the boom in wearable technology, Apple's "invisible" interface Siri, and even the push to get data off a smartphone and onto a smartwatch, it's almost a natural progression of mobile tech.

That's why companies like Vuzix have long been making AR goggles, why the military is interested in the system, and why Apple and Sony have patented their AR ideas. Plus, inevitably, there's a payback for these firms: With today's networked tech the kind of valuable data that Google and its ilk could extract from an AR headset may be incredibly saleable.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter or Google and check out Fast Company too.

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