As HoloLens looms, Atheer plans new augmented reality headset

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Credit: Signe Brewster/Gigaom

Mountain View-based startup Atheer plans to announce today a second developer version of its augmented reality glasses, moving it closer to the long-promised headset it plans to sell to businesses.

The refreshed glasses are the first I’ve seen from Atheer that actually look like, well, glasses. They have a Snapdragon 800 processor and a lighter, more compact frame. Their Android-based operating system now looks much cleaner and is navigable with just a few gestures.

The four-year-old startup is now operating under a new CEO: Alberto Torres, who was formerly the senior vice president of mobility at HP. He replaced former Atheer CEO Soulaiman Itani in October.

Atheer CEO Alberto Torres demonstrates a medical application on the Atheer augmented reality headset.

Atheer CEO Alberto Torres demonstrates a medical application on the Atheer augmented reality headset.

Under Itani, Atheer launched a crowdfunding campaign offering augmented reality glasses to consumers. It canceled the campaign after raising more than $200,000, citing deeper interest from the enterprise side.

Torres said Atheer will remain focused on the enterprise for at least the next three years. Atheer is already working with partners in the healthcare, oil and gas and logistics spaces, and is looking to expand into new partnerships with this new headset.

During a demo, Atheer showed me the latest iterations of the apps it has now been building for more than a year. I pinched my fingers to zoom in and out on a 3D model of a heart and swiped through Google Maps. I watched as a virtual spout attached itself to a real piece of paper and began spewing virtual water, and scanning a barcode with the glasses’ camera pulled up a list of instructions for a job. A new feature allows you to hold your hands up to make a square, and the headset will automatically take a picture. Many are abilities desperately needed in industries where your hands are too dirty to touch a tablet screen or it is monotonous to log item after item after item.

Atheer CEO Alberto Torres.

Atheer CEO Alberto Torres.

As general interest grows, Atheer will begin to dip its toes into the consumer space, perhaps starting with very specific use-cases. Torres said he would love to create an augmented reality headset that scuba divers could use underwater. Skydivers and skiiers would also benefit from gesture-based computing.

“I see it becoming what your laptop is today,” Torres said, describing it as a tool people will take out for short-use sessions. “I don’t believe that we are ready for people to be wearing this all the time.”

As Atheer traverses this new space, it will find both an enemy and an ally in Microsoft, which made the surprise announcement of its HoloLens augmented reality headset last month. The big player’s entry into the space will bring mass interest, but Torres is confident Atheer can still stand out.

“History shows it’s not always the people who throw the most money at it that get the right answer,” Torres said. “Our focus is to execute and have a great experience. This world of computing at your fingertips … it’s going to happen.”

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