Justin R. Rattner

Intel Senior Fellow and director and chief technology officer, Intel Labs

Hillsboro, Ore.

Why are wearable computers getting so much attention recently?
The sensor technology, the communications technology and the computer technology have all reached a point where, for the first time, the potential for highvolume consumer wearables is real. That’s what’s new. Today you can put essentially everything that’s in a smartphone into a set of eyeglasses, although they would be a bit heavy. That potentially becomes an interesting platform for communications.

Why do you say “potentially”?
We think there is a grand challenge when it comes to eyewear. No one’s been able to demonstrate a high-performance see-through display. This side-view display that you see in [Google’s smart glasses] Google Glass and in the Oakley Airwave snow goggles is, in some sense, a recognition of the fact that no one has solved the transparent display problem even though there are any number of people working on it. [Such a high-performance see-through display would have] an optical engine for the left and right eyes that would project images into the lenses. The display would be constructed in such a way that it keeps the virtual images in front of you, regardless of where you turn your head or your gaze. So if you’re walking in New York, you will see “Empire State Building” or “Statue of Liberty” hovering over those physical objects. That’s where everybody wants to be as soon as possible.

There have been a handful of companies, such as Lumus, that have had these kinds of technologies for a long time, but typically they’ve either been strictly in development or sold for research in augmented reality. Generally speaking, see-through displays have been too bulky and too dim to bring to market.

Why can’t these see-through augmented-reality glasses be made more like a regular pair of eyeglasses or sunglasses?
It really requires a very high level of optical engineering to do it right. [But] the people working on these technologies have mostly been small, underfunded startups or people who are interested only in the optics and not in actually building a complete [smartglasses] product.

Are there any wearable systems that are delivering what people want?
One of our favorite ones is Looxcie, a little clip-on video camera. That notion of continuously recording your life is a pretty interesting one. What you really want, though, is good face recognition so when you go to a cocktail party, a little thing in your ear says, “Hey, that’s Bob Jones, your high school buddy.” You can walk up to that person and say, “Oh, Bob, how are you doing? So good to see you.” I guarantee you’ll sell a million of those in about a week.