Telepathy One aims to compete with Google Glass

 
/ Updated: April 24, 2013 11:17 AM PDT

The Telepathy One is no Google Glass. And supposedly, it's not trying to be.

Demonstrated at an event in New York City, the Telepathy One is a wearable headset developed in Japan, intended on being part of the very same emerging industry as Google Glass. It has a built-in camera and floating microdisplay, much like Google Glass and the Vuzix M100 Smartglasses . The biggest difference between it and Google Glass, besides specs, might be one of scope.

Telepathy founder Takahito Iguchi with his translator in New York. Sarah Tew/CNET

According to founder Takahito Iguchi, app developer and creator of the augmented-reality app Sekai Camera, the goal of Telepathy One is intimate: you're meant to "wear your love." Iguchi says he always wished telepathy were real, and that if it were, we could understand each other better.

What does that mean? What the Telepathy One mainly seems to do is stream video you're seeing through the onboard headset to people you're ideally in close social contact with. In the projected stream, you see their comments. It sounds a lot like the Google Hangout capability in Google Glass. But, the technical details -- how the Telepathy One records, streams, or stores video, where it's sharing this content to, and how private the content is -- weren't provided.

Sarah Tew/CNET

I got to try the headset, but demos were limited to showing off the microprojector's display quality: one headset showed text messages beamed from a tablet, and the other worked with the one announced app for Telepathy One, a Manga Camera App (already available and popular in Japan) that turns photos into black-and-white animated comics. But all it did was display these comics, as a proof of concept, onto the Telepathy One's tiny floating screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

A tiny microprojector at the edge of an arm that floats in front of your eye displays a hovering image, much like Google Glass or the Vuzix M100. It's a tiny bit of tech that doesn't even look like it would fit in the Telepathy One's tiny arm. Telepathy One is supposed to be more aesthetically appealing than Google Glass, with an optical device that won't interfere as much with intimacy: it's meant to be a "social communication device" above all else.

The Telepathy One communicates via Bluetooth and uses an OS built off Linux, but the hardware specs remain a mystery.

Sarah Tew/CNET

App functions are very limited, by design: other than working with that funky Manga app, the Telepathy One supports streaming and sharing photos and videos...and that's about it. No promises of other augmented reality ideas or heads-up turn-by-turn directions. As for third-party app development and an API, Iguchi says that might wait for a "Telepathy Two," which his team is already working on.

If all this sounds more than a little half-baked, then you know what it was like to be in the demo room. Even the streaming-video function wasn't ready to be seen. The headset itself feels very wobbly, and the finicky microprojector arm, though tiny, has an extremely small viewing window that needed to be aimed perfectly to be seen. It's a very early prototype at best, with very little real functionality to prove its claims.

In person, Iguchi is artistic and charming, and his ideals are intriguing. He seems open to ideas of how to best use his device. I want to believe him, but Telepathy One looks like it'll have a hard road to realizing those ideas. The first problem: Telepathy One is a very, very early prototype. The second: getting anyone to make apps for it will be a huge stretch, especially in an increasingly crowded landscape full of products that all seem to be welcoming apps. The Telepathy One feels like a conceptual contemporary art project more than an actual device. I'd use it in an installation exhibit at a museum, but would I pay for it?

Sarah Tew/CNET

If wearable visors and headsets are ever going to take off, they'll need to prove their worth and show us visions of ideas we've only dreamed of, or be so useful and cheap they'll seem indispensable. Telepathy One seems to be neither. But it is engaging in some of the questions of emotional intimacy and privacy that Google Glass will have tackle too, eventually. Iguchi's hopes are high that Telepathy One will be available by the end of the year, with a price lower than the Explorer edition of Google Glass (which costs nearly $1,500). The moment it's available, I look forward to seeing more of it. The futurist in me is excited, but the consumer is incredibly skeptical.

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