Augmented reality sound with the Bose AR glasses

Augmented reality was used exclusively with images, but it doesn't have to be. Audio company Bose announced the “Bose AR” at this year's SXSW festival. Bose showed what AR with sound can look like. The company plans to ship 10,000 of these glasses to developers and manufacturers this summer with the intention of working together.

Bose AR devices combine the data from your mobile phone's motion sensors and GPS and connect it with Bluetooth. GPS detects where a user is and the nine-axis sensor determines which direction they are looking and moving. Small, directional speakers provide the sound. App developers can label locations to trigger specific sounds. In addition, the motion sensors can be used as a head-based gesture management interface.

Bose has reserved some $ 50 million for Bose AR developers and already lists 11 software partners, including Yelp, TripAdvisor and fitness company Strava. Bose category business manager Santiago Carvajal mentioned companies like Ray-Ban and Warby Parker as potential hardware partners, but says no one has been contracted yet. "We are in talks with a number of wearable hardware manufacturers in the eyewear industry," said Santiago Carvajal. It is not yet known what price tag the glasses will carry. This will of course depend on who makes the glasses.

The company wants to put Bose AR in as many types of devices as possible. A large display rack showed bicycle helmets, prescription glasses and earplugs as examples of possible future products. There were two working devices available at SXSW: 3D-printed sunglasses and a modified version of its QuietComfort30 headphones, tentatively known as the QC3X. The glasses apparently last three to four hours, but Bose wants six to eight hours on a commercial version.

Carvajal says Bose is especially interested in eyewear because they're more comfortable and "socially acceptable" than earplugs, and they don't give the impression that you're unattractive when you wear them. “We have been wearing glasses for years, they are accepted by everyone,” said Carvajal.

The lenses of the Bose AR glasses can have backwards AR function. The prototype sunglasses look completely normal from the front. They fall to the side because of the built-in speakers, the motion sensors and a touchpad. But they're still very light, and Carvajal says the weight shouldn't change much in a production version.

Bose built a few simple apps for SXSW that work pretty well, if not perfectly. The most impressive demonstration was an augmented reality tour of the bars and restaurants along an Austin street. It worked like a visual augmented reality, but with sound instead of a heads-up display: you look at a building and tap a touchpad, you are then briefly told what's inside.

Carvajal said Bose AR can determine when you're looking at a specific image in a park, but not when you're looking at a specific detail. It's not as precise as phone- and glasses-based AR projects that "pin" virtual objects in extremely specific locations.

The usefulness of Bose AR depends on what developers do with it. And hearing someone talk to you doesn't feel as particularly high-tech as watching a hologram. But depending on what the AR glasses will cost, they offer a fresh and low-risk way of thinking about augmented reality. It can also easily complement a visual display, as visual and audio AR both depend on an understanding of motion and location.

Update: A Bose spokesperson says it has no plans to sell a self-branded commercial version of the glasses. Plans currently only include Bose development kits and partner devices.

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