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Innovega combines glasses and contact lenses for an unusual take on augmented reality

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Gallery Photo: Innovega iOptik augmented reality system hands-on photos
Gallery Photo: Innovega iOptik augmented reality system hands-on photos

With Project Glass an early prototype, competitors are pushing to deliver augmented reality glasses before Google makes its move. Unlike every other set we've seen, though, the Innovega iOptik system is more than a pair of glasses. Half the system, to be sure, is a pair of the large, slightly goofy frames and lenses we've come to expect. But the core of iOptik is a pair of contact lenses embedded with tiny optical components and a filter. On their own, these behave just like ordinary contacts, and they'll incorporate users' prescriptions when necessary. But add the glasses, and you've got a heads-up display that promises a far wider field of vision than you'd get from a competitor like Vuzix.

The first version of Innovega's glasses are designed for military use, but it's planning a consumer version by 2014 or 2015, hence its presence here. A working version was on display for the first time, but not on a human — instead a mannequin head had been implanted with a camera, which displayed what it was "seeing" on a screen. Since it incorporates custom contact lenses, it's not the sort of thing you can try out hands-on, but the rudimentary overlay was working well when we saw it. For now, it uses hard lenses, but the consumer version is set to use soft ones.

The iOptik glasses and lenses aren't a self-contained platform like Glass or Vuzix glasses, even leaving aside the bifurcated form factor. Instead, the company plans to partner with more consumer-facing brands that can help bring it to market. When that happens, it'll target both the nascent heads-up display sector created by Project Glass and immersive gaming like what we're seeing with the bulkier Oculus Rift. For now, prototypes are shipping for military testing — the Pentagon placed an order earlier this year.