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Atheer Labs brings Android into 3D augmented reality

At the end of 2014, the company expects to ship the Atheer One to consumers who want to be at the frontier of virtual, wearable computing.

Forget about cell phones, watches, and tablets, the metal and plastic objects that intermediate between the digital and physical worlds. In the future everyone wears 3D glasses and interacts in real space with virtual screens and objects using gestures and natural language. That's the future according to Atheer Labs, which is attempting to turn the vision portrayed in the above video into a reality.

On Thursday, Atheer Labs started an Indiegogo campaign to promote its new 3D, augmented-reality glasses platform.

Atheer's first goal is to build a library of apps to showcase the wearable computer. The effort to attract developers to the platform could be aided by having some preorders for its consumer device, the Atheer One. Atheer is aiming at the Android community with its Development Kit, which takes advantage of existing Android APIs, and developers familiar with the Unity and Vuforia 3D programming environments.

The Atheer Developer Kit is scheduled to ship Q1 2014. The Atheer One (right) will ship in Q4 2014, said Soulaiman Itani, company founder and CEO. The company has been granted several patents for its technology, covering vision optimization and face recognition algorithms. Atheer Labs

The developer hardware consists of glasses, weighing 75 grams, and a pocket-sized computer to power the apps. The glasses have twin high-definition, 1024x768-pixel displays, and a 36-degree field of view (equivalent to a 15-inch tablet at half arm's length). The Atheer Development Kit will cost $850 and be available in the first quarter of 2014.

"Our number one target is commercial applications, and we are also looking for verticals like sports and gaming," said Soulaiman Itani, Atheer Labs founder and CEO.

At the end of 2014, the company expects to ship the Atheer One to consumers craving to be at the frontier of virtual, wearable computing. Unlike the Development Kit, the Atheer One will be tethered to an Android phone, and have the capability to run the nearly one billion Android apps without modification via a "legacy" 2D mode. The 2D Android apps are displayed through the 3D glasses as if a tablet were floating in front of you, Itani said. Atheer's technology could also be integrated with other operating systems.

The Atheer One glasses will have a 65-degree field of vision display (similar to a 26-inch tablet at half arm's length) and be priced at $350 for those who preorder it via Indiegogo. For comparison, the 2D Google Glass, which has a far smaller field of view, currently sells for $1,500.

Atheer Labs

Earlier this week, another augmented reality startup, Meta, shared a similar vision for the future of computing. The company announced that it would ship its 3D augmented-reality glasses tethered to a pocket computer running a proprietary operating system in June 2014.

Unlike the Atheer One, coupled with an Android phone, the MetaPro wearable computer will be tethered to a powerful pocket computer that will drive sophisticated, immersive 3D applications. However, the Atheer One is in the range of less than half the weight of the MetaPro glasses and about one-tenth the price. The MetaPro is priced at $3,000, about twice the cost of a standard Retina MacBook Pro, but promises to replace the need for physical devices. Meta also has a $667 software development kit that will be shipped to 1,500 developers in February, the company said.

It's too soon to tell what kind of reception Atheer, Meta, or others developing augmented-reality platforms will have with their respective offerings. The are mostly defined now by the promotional videos rather than shipping products. But, Atheer's compatibility with Android and lower price could provide a lower barrier for people to take the initial step into the 3D virtual world.