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Linux-based smart glasses keep it stylish

Oct 22, 2014 — by Eric Brown 7,525 views

Laforge is prepping a $399 beta version of its Linux-based Icis eyewear, as well as a $549 Bold model due in 2015 that adds a camera and higher resolution.

Relatively few of the smart eyewear products now coming to market compete directly with Google Glass as a general-purpose consumer device. Most are vertical-market helmets for industrial or field service use (Vuzix M100), or are designed for specific activities such as skiing (Recon’s Snow 2) or motorcycle riding (Skully AR-1.) Laforge Optical’s Icis stands out from the pack with its consumer focus and its foundation in embedded Linux rather than the stripped-down Android stacks used by most smart eyewear.

Two Icis frame styles
(click images to enlarge)

The eyewear is also unusual in that it splits the display to align along both the left and right sides of the field of vision rather than locating the display only on one side, like Google Glass. Some newer eyewear, such as the industrial-focused Daqri Smart Helmet and ODG’s R-7, instead spread the display across the full FOV, showing transparent augmented reality elements.

Icis UI
(click image to enlarge)

More so even than Google Glass, or the still under development GlassUp, Icis looks like a pair of regular glasses rather than something you’d find strapped around the forehead of a Borg. Like both these devices, Icis is also available in multiple styles, as well as in prescription lens versions.


Laforge shipped an Icis earlyBeta Kit (IeBK) to early backers for $549 this summer, and is now offering pre-sales on a $399 Icis Beta device due to ship by the end of the year. The IeBK was launched to much fanfare in February as an Indiegogo project. Only six days in, Laforge pulled the campaign, after receiving $80,000 in investment funding, making crowdfunding unnecessary. Those who had already signed up were able to join a private pre-sale campaign.


The Icis device due in the next few months is functionally similar to the IeBK, but is “more refined,” says Laforge. This will be followed by an Icis Bold system due in early 2015, which jumps back up to $549, but adds a 5-megapixel, 720p-capable camera and higher 800 x 600 resolution. That’s still a third to a quarter the price of the Google Glass, which is still officially in beta mode, despite now being generally available for $1,500.

True, Icis is somewhat simpler than Google Glass, lacking features like WiFi or voice controls, for example, but the difference is not as great as it might seem from the price. Like Google Glass — and most smartwatches — Icis is intended as a Bluetooth-connected notification device. It provides real-time updates from social networks, as well as navigational applications linked to the GPS on your phone or tablet.

Icis Bold detail
(click image to enlarge)

Icis runs a “specialty” Linux distribution “geared toward interfacing with the display,” on an unnamed, 1GHz Sitara system-on-chip from Texas Instruments. The glasses ship with 1GB of RAM — half the memory provided by the latest Glass model.

Icis incorporates Kopin Cyberdisplays: a 0.35-inch, VGA LVS (600 x 480) model for the Icis — and about the same resolution as Glass — and a 0.44-inch, SVGA LSC (800 x 600) model for the Icis Bold. The semi-transparent widgets and text are projected against the inside of the lenses from each of the temple section of the frame.

The Icis is equipped with Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC, which is currently used only for wirelessly charging the 6-hour battery. A Google Glass style touchpad is available for adjusting the interface. A microphone and speakers are also part of the package, but there’s no mention of voice support, at least for the time being.

Notifications on iPhone (left) and as they appear on Icis
(click image to enlarge)

The device offers three modes of operation. The Normal mode is the default, but if you start moving faster than 3mph, as detected by the device’s accelerometer, the glasses switch into Active mode, where fitness apps are prominently featured. If you’re moving at over 20mph, the device switches into Drive mode. Here, notifications are blocked, and the display is devoted to navigation and other driver-safe information.

SocialFlo interactions between mobile devices and Icis
(click image to enlarge)

Laforge provides an app called SocialFlo for interfacing with Android, iOS, and Windows Phone devices and developing widgets and apps, as well converting existing smartphone apps into widgets. The Icis apps run on the smartphone. An API is available for developers to create their own widgets and apps. Laforge has posted an Icis developer signup page, with promises to reveal more about the development platform in early 2015.

Specifications listed for the Icis and Icis Bold include:

  • Processor — TI Sitara @ 1GHz
  • Memory — 1GB
  • Display — Kopin CyberDisplay VGA LVS (640 x 480) for Icis; Kopin CyberDisplay SVGA LSC (800 x 600) for Bold
  • Wireless — Bluetooth 4.0 (Bluegiga BT Radio); NFC (for wireless charging)
  • Sensors — 3-axis gyro; accelerometer; touchpad
  • Audio — Mic; IambicFLO directional speaker
  • Camera (Bold only) — 5-megapixel with 720p video recording
  • Battery — 6 hours of battery life
  • Mobile OS support — Any BT-enabled Android 4.0, iOS 7, or Windows Phone 8
  • Operating system — Linux

Icis on YouTube

Further information

Laforge’s Icis beta is available for $399 and will ship by the end of the year. It will be followed by the $549 Icis Bold, due to ship in early 2015. More information may be found at the Laforge Icis website.

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One response to “Linux-based smart glasses keep it stylish”

  1. zogzog says:

    NFC for charging ? sure.

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