Even as the broader public (okay, maybe just the tech press) waits patiently for announcements from the mixed reality mirage known as Magic Leap, there’s an augmented reality company that’s already been shipping smartglasses for years and it’s designing them right in the heart of San Francisco.
Today, the Osterhout Design Group announced that it has closed a $58 million Series A led by 21st Century Fox with participation coming from Shenzhen O-film Tech Co., Vanfund Urban Investment & Development Co. and some individual investors. This is the company’s first bout of outside funding, notable given that ODG was founded in 1999, seemingly an eternity ago compared to most other non-public companies now in the AR space.
Like many veteran AR/VR companies, ODG got its start in the space by building out wearable technologies for the military. It has spent the last eight years of its efforts on smart glasses (and tens of millions of dollars) building some of the best optics in the industry. In 2014, Microsoft paid around $150 million for a host of patents from the company related to their wearable AR technologies.
The company has largely flown under the radar in recent years while other augmented reality competitors like Google, Magic Leap, Meta and Microsoft have been praised, maligned and obsessed over. Much of this has been the result of ODG’s primary business ambition during this time: outfitting the chronically unsexy enterprise space.
Throughout the last few iterations, ODG has focused its efforts on bringing hands-free utility designed around enterprise use cases. An employee can utilize the glasses to look over a checklist or instructions while completing a sensitive task. Important notifications can alert workers without taking their attention fully away from the task at hand.
AR smartglasses represent what many see as an inevitable evolution in the form factor of wearable computing, what exactly those best use cases look like however is a matter that’s up for more debate.
ODG, at least up to this point, has chosen to take much more conventional approach to smartglasses computing than competitors like HoloLens. Their latest model, the $2,750 R-7 glasses is more of a head-mounted tablet in that it has a wide variety of capabilities largely designed around 2D interfaces. The company has detailed that it is experimenting with devices that integrate live environment mapping, but it’s unclear whether the company’s anticipated CES 2017 announcements will highlight anything of the kind.
Though ODG has largely made a name for itself in the military and enterprise spaces, the company is readying itself for an entrance into the consumer arena.
While companies like Snapchat are gaining attention for their Spectacles sunglasses, which features an integrated connected video camera, others like Microsoft and Meta are building sophisticated head-mounted computers which actively map user environments and build them into live interfaces.
ODG is being less than coy that it is getting ready to soon show off some major developments in the smartglasses space. In a statement CEO Ralph Osterhout says that the products unveiled by ODG at CES “will likely form the largest category of smartglasses worldwide.”
This bout of funding signals that after several years of exploring the space and identifying its strengths, ODG is getting ready to emerge from the shadows.