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AI and AR Smart Glasses:
Reinventing Indoor Navigation

Innovation Series #1  ·  Written with Charlie Meredith, GoodMaps CTO.

In the ever-evolving landscape of technological innovation, few advancements hold the same level of promise to reshape our daily lives as camera-based smart glasses. Though many of us may hear this phrase and think of failed augmented reality (AR) devices such as Google Glass or the sputtered launch of Apple’s Vision Pro, recent alternatives in the wearable market indicate that a more subtle, AI-driven approach will lead to true utility and, ultimately, mainstream adoption.

For example, Meta’s quiet approach to their Ray-Ban smart glasses has allowed them to slowly iterate and organically discover the features that users want, such as the ability to live-stream footage or use the built-in AI assistant to analyze your environment. And the unspoken “killer feature” of these glasses is not truly a feature at all but rather their very appearance – the inconspicuous profile of seemingly “normal” eyeglasses.

Meta’s project is a proper step toward the inevitable future of a smartly packaged, AI-driven, mainstream set of AR glasses. And while AR technology has already impacted numerous fields, from gaming to healthcare, its applications in indoor navigation point to a transformative force. Through the seamless integration of digital information with the users’ physical environment, full AR glasses would offer a new paradigm for wayfinding that is not only immersive and intuitive but also impactful.

A view of an airport concourse through AR glasses showing directions to the gate.

The challenges faced when navigating indoors have long caused frustration. In complex and bustling environments – such as airports, shopping malls, or hospitals – navigating confidently and efficiently can be daunting. The traditional methods of wayfinding, including maps, signage, and even newer digital-based solutions, often fall short of providing real-time guidance or complete spatial awareness. This void is where AR glasses excel, offering users a dynamic, personalized navigation experience that adapts to their surroundings and requirements. By overlaying digital information in the real world, AR glasses can bridge the gap between the virtual and the physical.

Imagine walking into an airport terminal wearing a pair of smart AR glasses: instantly, relevant information relating to gates, departure times, and nearby amenities overlay your field of view, seamlessly blending into the physical world. With turn-by-turn directions guiding your every step, navigating the terminal becomes effortless, and the built-in AI assistant ensures that you make it to lunch, the restroom, and your gate on time.

Furthermore, the impact of smart AR glasses on indoor navigation will extend far beyond simple convenience. For individuals who have vision loss or physical disabilities, smart glasses have the potential to be life-changing. By including audio cues, haptic feedback, and voice commands alongside visual overlays, smart glasses would enable users to navigate independently. As they reduce the need for cumbersome assistive devices or having to ask for assistance from others, AR glasses empower individuals who have disabilities to reclaim a sense of autonomy and freedom.

The adoption of smart glasses also aligns with the broader trend towards smart cities and interconnected locations. By layering onto existing infrastructure and other IoT devices, smart glasses can provide users with real-time updates on crowd density, traffic flow, environmental conditions, and other relevant information, thus not only improving navigational efficiency but also helping to create a safer, more responsive urban environment. With smart glasses acting as a window into the digital realm, users can easily interact with and contribute to the very systems shaping our cities.

In addition to practical uses, smart glasses unlock a new medium of creativity and experiential design. For instance, imagine exploring a museum with smart glasses that can provide information about an exhibit as you gaze upon it. Historical facts, multimedia presentations, and interactive elements would enrich a visitor’s experience, turning a museum visit into a fully immersive journey through time. In a retail environment, they could provide shoppers with personalized recommendations, real-time product availability, or virtual try-on experiences. For education, they could enhance the learning experience by overlaying additional educational content, making abstract concepts tangible and more engaging. This shift towards wearable, ambient computing has the potential to redefine how we interact with the world.

A view of a supermarket through AR glasses showing overlaid information about groceries.

When integrated with GoodMaps – a navigation service designed specifically for camera-based indoor wayfinding – smart glasses can add to an already enhanced navigation experience. Here’s how smart glasses could work with GoodMaps:

  • Accelerated Real-Time Navigation: smart AR glasses can overlay digital information across the user’s field of view, enabling the GoodMaps experience to be fully immersive and spatially aware with navigational cues, points of interest, and directional arrows displayed on top of the environment.
  • Convenient Voice Guidance: GoodMaps’s voice-guided navigation – which already provides step-by-step instructions to users – could be integrated and delivered directly (without the need to consult an external device) into the user’s ears via bone-conduction headphones or through the glasses’ built-in audio system, ensuring seamless navigation.
  • Obstacle Detection and Avoidance: By utilizing onboard sensors, such as a depth camera or LiDAR, GoodMaps could provide spatially aware obstacle detection to users, alerting them to potential dangers and offering alternate routes.
  • AI-Assisted Recommendations: The built-in AI assistant could utilize GoodMaps’ rich environmental data to tailor recommendations to suit users’ preferences and schedules.

The use of smart glasses in wayfinding holds the potential to revolutionize the way we experience indoor spaces, offering a glimpse into a world where technology seamlessly blends into our physical surroundings to enhance our everyday lives. And there are many reasons to be excited about these devices, like improved accessibility, a heightened user experience, efficient access to real-time data, and new and creative ways to experience an environment. By leveraging the power of camera-based, AI-driven smart glasses, we can enable smarter, more intuitive, immersive, and efficient navigation experiences that benefit individuals and communities alike.

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