In Depth: We may have found the unexpected killer app for augmented reality… opera


Augmented reality is getting a bit dull, let’s be honest. When Google Glass ceased to be, the interest in the technology began to dry up – at least on a consumer level.

The talk now revolves around the use of AR in an enterprise space – it makes much more sense, but it’s not going to create headlines that will re-energise widespread interest in the technology. Come on, how much does advanced warehouse management really fire your passion?

Looking at Sony’s stand at the Wearable Technology Show, you’d think there wasn’t much here to do anything to reignite that fire. It’s showing off the same SmartEyeGlass hardware it launched over a year ago, with no alterations, seemingly confirming that the big brands are pulling out of the space.

Sony SmartEyeGlass

Trying on the glasses is still a cool experience, still something that makes you feel like you’re peering into the future. The headset is lighter than some I’ve experienced, and closer to real glasses (thanks to the battery and processing being dealt with by a separate controller that dangles off).

However, as you can see above, the headset is still a long way from something you’d happily walk down the street wearing, unless you wanted to pretend you were heading to some futuristic techno-rave where an apocalypse has forced everyone to give up on fashion completely, and with consumer interest in the space all but over, you’d think AR was heading into the 3D bin.

But there are signs the technology isn’t dead – just repointed. A company called Opera Touch has been working with the SmartEyeGlass and has created an app that allows opera audiences to use augmented reality to see subtitles of the show in a large number of languages.

My first feeling was that this was technology for the sake of it – after all, there are subtitles above the performance to offer this very functionality. (I’m not going to pretend I knew this, or pretty much anything about opera. I found this out trying the glasses).

Sony SmartEyeGlass

However, the issue is that having to scan up and down to see what’s being said is jarring, not letting the audience see what’s going on and understand the words at the same time. By using AR, it brings the feeling of subtitles in films to a real world performance.

On top of that, the glasses can also feed information on the artists and let them see the score unfold in front of them, offering something that the subtitles above can’t. A spokesperson for Opera Touch told me the new company has already sold the system into an opera house in San Sebastien, Spain, and is in talks to do the same with larger venues in UK, US and Spain in the future.