Seeing a flexible future

Canadian smart glasses that could change the wearable game

In 1983 the first iteration of the mobile phone was released by Motorola in the United States. If you’re old enough, you might remember Tom Selleck as Magnum PI using one, a big beige brick with an antenna. Not something to slip into your back pocket.

That’s where we’re at with smart glasses. It’s the early days. What’s on the market is bulky and indiscreet. The processing unit is built into the arm or sits on the ear loop. The technology is obvious. An early adopter may look like an amateur sleuth.

The technology is also not particularly agile. The manufacturer dictates user experience. Any available software is inflexible and tied to online platforms such as Facebook or Amazon.

Those were the two problems Romeo Barbosa, principal consultant at Green PI, set out to solve. To make smart glasses that were aesthetically pleasing—something to get excited about wearing—and create the technology interface with whatever app the customer liked using.

The focus for marketing smart glasses currently leans toward novelty. But the technology is serious business. “When I give a speech, I need facts in front of me, and with the glasses, I can access it instantly,” says Barbosa, “I’m no longer tied to a podium or teleprompters and can move about freely while delivering ideas.”

A rewarding partnership was struck with the Smart Manufacturing and Advanced Recycling Technologies (SMART) Centre at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ont. The Niagara College-led Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing Innovation (SONAMI) was the matchmaker.

Both issues were within the scope of phase one research, which involved student researchers. “One of the metrics we have is engaging students in real-life work,” says Dushyant Puri, research project manager at Conestoga’s SMART Centre, “Our mandate is to produce highly qualified personnel.”

Like any product in the early stages of research and development, change is inevitable. The scope of a project needs to remain flexible. “Initially, we wanted fibre optic projection, but it would not work, and then we changed it to electronic separation,” says Barbosa. The bulky processing unit was removed from the glasses and put into the user’s pocket. For designer eyeglass wearers, it’s a dream come true.

The team at Conestoga worked on image processing. Most projection happens on a flat surface—think of a movie projector. But with smart glasses, the surface is curved, and the centre axis of the image shifts. Image calibration was an essential fix. “Everything that would interface with the Green PI hardware we worked on, including colour correction, brightness contrast, image morphing including distortion correction, among other items” says Puri.

Phase Two began in September 2021, focusing on building a wireless user-friendly mobile app. The interface was consumer-driven—projecting their favourite apps from their cellphone. It required students in the Mobile Solutions and Development program at Conestoga to code software for Android and iOS. They were learning as they were working.

Shubham Singh enrolled in the post-graduate program at Conestoga after completing undergraduate studies in computer science engineering at Savitribai Phule Pune University in India. The missing link in his education was practical application. “I had no work experience and didn’t know anything about software development in the business world,” he says. Having the opportunity to engage in this project positively impacted Shubham’s confidence and has him excited about his future career opportunities.

Eight months later, the software’s in place, and the hardware—the prototype of the glasses—is getting there. There will be more iterations. “Once we have a prototype, then it will be one or two years to manufacturing,” says Barbosa, “At that stage, we’ll look for trial funding.”

It is coming soon to a market near you—homegrown Canadian technology from Green PI that could change the wearable game.

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