Google Glass might have had a few good uses for navigation and cyclists, but its poor battery life and few practical uses, not to mention its very high price made it incompatible for most people. Cyclists can turn their attention in a new direction, however, as CES 2016 brought new augmented reality solutions to light which cater exclusively to the biking segment of the population around the world. Garmin, reputable fitness tracking and gear manufacturer, has unveiled their first augmented reality glasses called Varia Vision made specifically for cyclists. These glasses bear a lot of resemblance to Google Glass and fulfill similar purposes, but with considerably more personalized features.
One of the main differences between the Varia Vision augmented reality glasses and Google Glass is that Garmin’s option can be used with any type of glasses or sunglasses, offering a lot of flexibility to its users. Garmin revealed that the gadget is created with safety in mind and as such, it will put a heads-up display in front of the wearer which can display important information, navigation data, notifications and even warnings of approaching cars from behind (provided the Varia Vision is connected to other Garmin cycling gear). The device can be mounted on either side of glasses or sunglasses, offering even more flexibility, which was missing entirely from Google Glass.
The gadget comes with a touch pad on the side that can be used for interactions, even with wet hands and its battery life is supposedly at around 8 hours, which is considerably more than Google Glass’ 2-4 hour autonomy. Its price is set at $400 and according to the company, the Varia Vision will become available on the market sometime in March. Although its price is definitely high for what it can actually do, the conveniences it might offer to cyclists might be worth it, but that depends on how often and at what level they actually cycle. Casual riders won’t find it worthwhile, but professionals and commuters might get some use out of it. In my mind, these augmented reality devices offer at least some degree of convenience and security, but their obtrusiveness might be more of a disadvantage, distracting cyclists from the road – Garmin stressed at their presentation that it wouldn’t, but I find that hard to believe. If you’ve ever been on urban bike tours, you’ll know that keeping your focus forward – as Garmin advocates, is not entirely the best idea, especially when on a bike.
Overall, Varia Vision is a good idea for commuters and professionals, but until we can determine how obtrusive it can actually be, I’d rather not recommend it to anybody else. The concept behind the device is pretty neat and the heads-up display might offer conveniences when it comes to traffic warnings, but the fact that it needs to be connected to other accessories, like a radar, kind of leaves me skeptical about its actual, practical uses. I don’t think navigation or smartphone notifications are important enough for cyclists to allow them to distract them while riding on a busy road. Considering the extra investments for auxiliary equipment like cameras and radars, the total price of a fully digitized assistant on a bike might be well over most people’s budgets.