This is a review of Optivent’s ORA-2, an Android based monocle Smart glass.
The very first suggestion I will make for anybody who is working with Smart glasses is to get a bluetooth keyboard or remote control tool, assuming that the device you are working on supports this. Working with a small trackpad and on-screen keyboard is a time consuming exercise in frustration. While an external keyboard is not normally required to use Smart glasses, it is very helpful when it comes to configuring the device for network access and application logins.
I started out working with a bluetooth keyboard, but eventually moved to Vysor, a remote control app for Android devices. Vysor has a free version and worked very well on my Mac.
It is important to understand at the start that the ORA-2 is not a turnkey product and is not intended for consumer use. Those working with the ORA-2 will need a development team that can create a wrap-around application to provide the desired functionality. The good news is that the ORA-2 is a pure Android device, so standard Android development skills are all that should be required.
Detailed specifications for the ORA-2 can be found on their web site, so I won’t duplicate it here.
The ORA-2 delivers with
- USB Power connector
- USB extension cable
- USB to micro USB adaptor cable
- User manual
The ORA-2 can be considered as simply an Android device that fits on your head like a normal pair of glasses. Because the optics and computing has to be held in a consistent place, the ORA-2 “Temples” are made of a sturdy, lightweight injection molded plastic that pinch slightly to your head. The pinching is evident, but not uncomfortable and was something that I was able to quickly get used to. I do not know if I would feel the same way after a day of wear, however.
The ORA-2 positions itself as a one-size-fits-all device. As there is no such thing as a true one-size-fits-all, I suggest you test the fit and positioning with as many team members as possible to ensure that the ORA-2 will be appropriate for your whole team.
Unfortunately, I am far sighted and need to wear glasses to read. Although the optical display on the ORA-2 was physically only a few centimetres from my eyes, focally it was several meters in front of me. Thus, when I wore my reading glasses, I was not able to see the ORA-2 display clearly. Fortunately, I did not need to read anything outside the ORA-2 display while wearing the ORA-2 and this didn’t present much of a problem, however in the field things won’t be so simple. For any farsighted person that doesn’t wear contact lenses, this would be a problem with any type of Smart glass. Although a technology has been developed that will allow Smart glasses to automatically focus on what you are looking at, I suspect it will be several years before this becomes available at a reasonable price.
Fortunately, for the nearsighted folks, the ORA-2 is designed to accommodate a standard pair of glasses. With today’s wide variety of frames, however, I suspect that some models might be too large to fit behind the ORA-2. If that’s the case, Optivent will gladly provide the technical details your optometrist would need to fit lenses into the ORA-2.
The actual hardware that comprises the ORA-2 is small and light enough, that I could almost see this as a clip-on to a normal pair of pair of glasses, if it had a robust enough frame.
Obviously, the ORA-2 ships powered off. The instructions provided indicate that you need to hold the power button down for three seconds and then wait 45 seconds for the system to boot. Once it is booted, a landing page will be displayed. For impatient people like me, it was a nerve wracking 45 seconds and I would have appreciated some indication that the boot was proceeding normally – like maybe a flashing LED.
The ORA-2 does have a LED that is right next to its micro-USB interface.
While LED operation states of red and green could be self explanatory, it would have been nice if the ORA-2 documentation were to cover this in greater detail. Optivent confirmed that the red LED indicates that the instrument is charging and the green LED indicates that the system is turned on.
Additionally, I had difficulties reading the battery display. While it is easy to see in the Vysor screen shots, I had difficulty seeing it when wearing the ORA-2 and the indicator is not always showing the correct level of charge. Optivent indicated that the false charge level information is a known issue and they are working on a resolution. Although Optivent states that the ORA-2 has a five hour battery life, I did not test this.
I see the ORA-2 as broken down into three main sections – the optical display, the audio & video and the computing.
The optical display is simply a small piece of plastic with a series of refractors that catch and display images projected from the side.
The image presented on the display is very sharp, although there appear to be vertical shadows consistent with the refractive grating. I very quickly mentally adjusted to this and was able to ignore the shadows.
The display can be moved slightly in or out so that you get an optimal view. As with any pair of glasses, you can adjust the nose pad arms to better position the frame.
Additionally, the display can be adjusted vertically with a “Glance Mode” and an “AR Mode”.
Audio & Video
The ORA-2 comes with a 5 M pixel Camera and consumer grade Audio.
Once the device is booted, the camera can be activated by pressing on the Camera button on the top of the camera housing.
This will activate an application that can take video, simple photographs and panoramic photographs. Transferring captured images and video off of the ORA-2, however, is neither trivial nor intuitive and will need to be taken care of by a higher level application.
The audio output is provided by a nifty little jack that plugs into the USB interface. As you can see from the photo below, the jack also has a passthrough connector so that other USB devices, as well as power, can be attached while the audio jack is present. I found the quality of the audio output is sufficient for conversational purposes. The only inconvenience is that if you are deaf in your right ear, you’ll need to use a USB extension cable to get audio into your left ear.
Audio input is achieved via a built-in microphone whose quality is sufficient for conversational purposes.
Once the device is powered on, a splash screen will be displayed.
Once you click on the circle on the right hand side of the display
you are brought what looks like a familiar Android desktop.
In just about every aspect I was able to test, the ORA-2 behaves as you would expect from an Android device.
Using a device with a track pad at my right temple took a little bit of getting used to, but with practice it became as intuitive as any other track pad or mouse. Because the ORA-2 doesn’t have a touch screen, which is present on all Android phones and tablets, Optivent has their own desktop manager application that will scroll the screen when your cursor gets close to the top and bottom borders. Native Android applications, however, don’t have this so you will need to “two finger swipe” in order to scroll within an app.
Because the ORA-2 is an Android device, you can run just about any application that can be found on Google Play. I was able to easily download and run most apps, but in some situations the app was not written to handle the screen size of the ORA-2. As the ORA-2 is not a consumer device and should only be running apps that you load & test, this shouldn’t matter much.
As with all other Smart glass devices, you cannot tap the screen directly. To resolve this, the cursor on the ORA-2 is represented by a small white circle on the screen that is controlled via the Touchpad on the right temple.
Its operation is generally intuitive for people who have experience with controlling devices with pads – you control the position of the cursor with the Touchpad and click by tapping the touchpad. It took me a little practice to get used to clicking because my finger never seemed to come down in the same place where I picked it up, but this easy enough to manage. As mentioned earlier, the ORA-2 comes with its own desktop manager to accommodate the need to scroll the screen. It does not have page by page swiping as I am accustomed with my Android phone. Instead, the up and down scrolling is automatic once the cursor reaches the top or bottom portions of the screen.
Because applications are not designed to scroll with the cursor rests at the screen edge, it is necessary to “two finger drag” for an application to scroll the screen in any direction. Because the Touchpad is relatively small, it required numerous drags to go through my Skype directory for just about anything. Considering how common Smart glasses should become in the near future, it would be nice if Android were to implement scrolling when the cursor is on the edge of a screen. A finger mouse would be a nice improvement for the ORA-2 as well.
While many people have different uses for Smart glasses, one of the most significant use cases is for remote assistance. That is, someone sitting at a desk can connect to someone out in the field and see what the field tech is seeing via the Smart glasses, then guide the field tech through their operations using audio, and potentially even annotating the display of the Smart glasses.
To do this, a network connection is required. As the ORA-2 does not have a bundled mobile phone capability, you will need to either connect to the local LAN or create a personal hotspot that you can share with the device. As just about any modern Smartphone will support this functionality and it is not a significant challenge to set up, I won’t cover the topic here suffice to say that you should set this up while you have access to a keyboard.
The ORA-2 delivers with a few Augmented Reality applications and some common productivity tools. Skype and TeamViewer are pre-loaded, as well as Augmented Reality scanners from Wikitude, Layar and Augment. Although the Skype interface is not well suited to the relatively small display of the ORA-2, it was very easy to get a video call going on Skype and the quality was good. Unfortunately, the Android TeamViewer is only for remote desktop control, so I was not able to test their audio / video capabilities. Also unfortunately, I was not able to test Duo, Google’s replacement for Hangouts. Although Duo should handle Android 4.1 and later, Google Play indicated that the ORA-2 isn’t compatible with Duo.
While Skype is a very nice, off the shelf solution, I don’t expect it will be enough for most commercial users. As well, I have seen many corporate networks that block Skype because they feel that it is too great a security risk. There are numerous software tools available in the Remote Support market and although they were all stating strong support for Android based Smart glasses, I was not able to find many that had certified the ORA-2 for their application. Optivent indicated that the ORA-2 is certified by Scalian, UBImax, Bosch Rexroth and is compatible with Scope AR’s “Remote AR”. As industry is the primary purchaser of Smart glasses these days, I think Optivent would be well served by investing in getting their products covered by as many Remote Support applications as possible.
Although the ORA-2 display is crisp and clear, the text on some app icons was blurred because of the small size of the icon. The text displayed by Android was always perfectly readable.
During the evaluation I ran into difficulties because the ORA-2 is using Android version 4.4.2, which was not supported by some applications. Optivent confirmed that they are working on upgrading the Android system, however could not give an anticipated release date.
What’s to like
- Lightweight design
- Crisp and easy to read display
- Up and running immediately
- Can run most standard Android programs
- Good value for the current Android based Smart glass market
What’s to not like
- Occasional crashes of Optivent’s Desktop Manager, possibly related to Bluetooth devices
- Runs a relatively old version of Android (upgrade in the works)
- Not convenient for left-handed or left-eye dominant users
- User manual is very short and delivered on folded A4 sheets, using a colouring scheme and font size that I had difficulty reading.