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Drone Pilots May Be the First Consumers to Buy Smart Glasses

But it's not a perfect experience yet.

Vicki Burton via Flickr

Speaking at the Augmented World Expo on Tuesday, Epson product manager Eric Mizufuka asked who in the audience had used one of his company’s pairs of smart glasses, which it sells under the Moverio brand.

Most of the people in the room raised a hand. And Epson probably didn’t plant all those people in the crowd, at least not directly: Moverio glasses were also a common sight at several AWE booths, which were largely targeted at enterprise customers.

But in an interview with Re/code, Mizufuka said Epson’s smart glasses sales to the enterprise over the past four years “have already been outpaced” by sales to a different audience: Hobbyist drone pilots.

Much like its competitor ODG, Epson says the era of consumer smart glasses is on the horizon, and piloting drones is the “killer consumer app” right now, Mizufuka said. He added that the company is working with the popular drone maker DJI to build tools for the Moverio glasses on top of its drone developer software, such as alerts when a drone is entering a no-fly zone.

“This can help make flying and filming safer, and in compliance with local regulations that require staying within line of sight of drones while flying,” DJI public relations manager Michael Perry said.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XYEUAU40Zrw

Mizufuka explained that translucent smart glasses let pilots see their drones and additional data, such as a live video feed from a drone’s on-board camera, simultaneously. This matters especially for drone photographers who want to line up their shots without looking down at a tablet or computer that might otherwise display that video feed.

Erich von Bitonio, a drone pilot from Silicon Valley (technically, he noted, he prefers “UAV/multirotor pilot”) said he has used Epson’s Moverio glasses while flying a quadrocopter, but “it’s not ideal.”

“The transparency of the design makes real FPV [first-person view] flight difficult,” von Bitonio said. “Also, in bright outside light, the image is almost unusable.”

Several augmented reality glasses have struggled with producing images large and bright enough to be viewed clearly outdoors, without sacrificing the translucency of their lenses that makes them useful for real-world tasks. This is also a challenge for the more established AR enterprise market, for people in industries like construction or telecom that do a lot of work outdoors.

Perry said he expected developers to use DJI’s tools to find new crossovers between wearables and drones in the near future.

“We expect to see features like head-tracking camera control and a more detailed heads-up display (showing everything from telemetry data for the platform to the speed of an object that the pilot is tracking) integrated into systems like the Avegant Glyph or Hololens,” Perry said.

Another application in third-party development, Mizufuka said: At least one game, challenging pilots to fly their drones through virtual rings displayed on the glasses. To that I say: So long as it’s better than Superman 64, sign me up.

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.