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Meta glasses bring 3D and your hands into the picture

The startup is launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing of the first generation augmented reality glasses for app developers.

Meron Gribetz and Ben Sand want to get rid of the keyboard and mouse forever.
Dan Farber

Meron Gribetz and Ben Sand just rolled into Silicon Valley from New York, landing at Paul Graham's Y Combinator startup incubator with some angel money in their pockets and the bold conviction that they can deliver the next major technology transformation.

Their startup, Meta, is developing wearable computing eyewear, but unlike Google Glass enters 3D space and uses your hands to interact with the virtual world. The Meta system includes stereoscopic 3D glasses, supplied by Epson, and a 3D camera to track hand movements, similar to the portrayals of gestural control in movies like "Minority Report" and "Avatar," as well as voice control and Wi-Fi.

"There is no other future of computing other than this technology, which can display information from the real world and control objects with your fingers at low latency and high dexterity," Gribetz, Meta founder and CEO, claimed. "It's the keyboard and mouse of the future."

On the competitive front, Oculus VR is developing the Rift, a 3D gaming headset, but it doesn't include gestural controls or work in real space. Compared to the Google Glass display, Meta's is about twice the size and is in the center of the field of view rather than above the eyeline. But the two devices serve different purposes. Glass is more of a personal assistant presenting information, while Meta creates a completely immersive environment. Over time apps could be developed for Meta that provide information cards, like Glass, that you can manipulate with your hands. And, Google is likely to evolve Glass into the 3D realm.

Meta can project a 3D image on a wall and users interact with their hands. (Credit: Meta)

Meta's augmented reality eyewear can be applied to immersive 3D games played in front of your face or on table, and other applications that require sophisticated graphical processing, such as architecture, engineering, medicine, film and other industries where 3D virtual object manipulation is useful.

For example, a floating 3D model of a CAT scan could assist doctors in surgery, a group of architects could model buildings with their hands rather than a mouse, keyboard or stylus and car designers could shape models with the most natural interface, their hands.

Meta prototype headset with stereoscopic glasses and camera. Meta

Meta germinated out of a Columbia University project, advised by augmented reality pioneer Professor Steven Feiner. The idea took shape a year and a half ago when Gribetz combined an Xbox Kinect gestural controller with Ray Ban glasses. "It was clunky heavy, expensive and an inferior version with Kinect on my head, but I could track a ball of fire in my hand. It wasn't accurate or wonderful, but it was enough to tell me I have to improve the various components," Gribetz said.

The current generation of Meta glass is bulky and tethered to an external computer, but Meta, which now has 12 employees, has bigger ambitions.

"People expect it to take off a lot later than it will. Glasses technology will be wearable all day in a year, not in 5 to 10 years," said Sand. Meta will have its next generation glasses available at the end of the year, Gribetz said, which will be one-third the weight and less bulky than the current generation, include an on-board computer and look like "sporty, sexy glasses."

Rendering of a future generation Meta glasses (Credit: Meta)

The key for Meta is getting developers on board. The company is launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund manufacturing of the glasses for application developers. The meta 1 Developers Kit will be available via Kickstarter for $750, and include the stereoscopic glasses, depth-tracking camera example applications, and a Unity 3D game engine framework for managing gestures and tracking control.

"We will appeal to developers who want to be at the cutting edge, leaving behind flat devices. They could paint an iPhone on a hand that could do what you do with a smartphone today, and then throw it away," Gribetz said.

Meta plans to model itself after Apple, selling its own hardware and operating system, and working with app developers to build out an ecosystem, Gribetz said. The odds of Meta becoming the next Apple are long, but becoming the next GoPro wouldn't be a bad outcome.