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Do AI-Enabled Smart Glasses Have a Place in Shopping and Retail?

Demand for smart spectacles is heavily focused in the manufacturing world, which is contributing to the 53.8 percent CAGR expected between 2016 and 2025, according to data published by Market Expertz in October.

The market value for high-tech glasses is expected to top $22.45 billion by that same timeframe but it begs the question: in the wake of Google Glass’s mainstream flop, is there consumer demand for intelligent glasses—especially when it comes to a limited shopping use case?

Regardless, some companies have created tech-infused wearables for shopping that they think will catch on among people who don’t want to pull out their smartphone every time inspiration strikes.

Enter Vuzix: based in Rochester, N.Y. with offices circling the globe, the company supplies wearables displays featuring augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR). (Note: these alternate realities, along with “mixed reality,” are increasingly referred to by the umbrella term, XR, or “extended reality.”)

To prove how its Vuzix Blade Smart Glasses can be inserted into the path to purchase, the company integrated with Japanese peer-to-peer marketplace Mercari, which has seen 100 million downloads of its flea-market-like app in Japan, the U.S. and the U.K. The startup, which reached a $6.5 billion valuation on first post-IPO day of trading in June, plays in the same arena as companies like eBay, Craigslist, Poshmark, OfferUp and Letgo. Targeting expansion into the U.S., Mercari hired at least 100 staff here as it seeks to persuade Americans to buy and sell their used clothing, homewares, collectibles and more on its mobile interfaces, which has driven more than 30 million downloads stateside.

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Participants in this proof-of-concept pilot between Vuzix and Mercari, referred to as the AI vision enhancement shopping application, wear the smart glasses as they go about their daily lives. When they see something they like, they just have to point at it to see similar items available on Mercari displayed on their intelligent lenses. If there’s a good match, they give the real-world object the thumbs up—the universal sign of approval—to save it to their online likes or wishlist. There, they can later revisit that item and decide whether or not to purchase.

“We have begun a proof of concept to optimize the UI/UX of our marketplace app Mercari for smart glasses, using the Vuzix Blade AR smart glasses,” Yuki Hamada, chief product officer of Mercari, said in a press release. “With just a hand gesture, you can get information on an item from camera images taken with the Vuzix Blade, search for related items on Mercari, and see information such as the selling price.

“We are striving to eventually be able to use smart glasses to buy and sell items on Mercari,” Hamada added.

From the sound of it, the Blade’s functionality seems pretty limited for now. If people don’t think the glasses are stylish enough to wear as a regular part of their daily look, will they want to dig for them in a bag or pocket when they spot a cool bag or smart pair of sneakers they want to search for on Mercari?

Then there’s the issue of how someone’s data is used and potentially abused. “In order to respect the privacy of users, by using edge AI technology, information retrieval will be conducted as much as possible within the device and not on the cloud,” Hamada explained. “Furthermore, the search is limited to only the spot to which the user points.”

Despite the current limitations, maybe Vuzix is keeping good company.

Viewpointsystem, maker of advanced eye tracking technology, won the Consumer Electronics Show’s (CES) 2019 Innovation Honoree Award for its VPS19 device that it claims is “the first wearable technology combining eye tracking with a display unit for mixed reality applications.”

According to Viewpointsystem CEO Nils Berger, Coca Cola and Heineken are among the more than 70 clients using a previous version of the technology in their operations. “Using our eyes as human-machine-interface allows intuitive interaction and bidirectional information exchange, whereas using our hands or the voice means a consciousness-driven, one-sided controlled action,” Berger said.