Augmented Reality Headset Race Heats Up in Silicon Valley

Augmented reality is roaring back to prominence as one of Silicon Valley's favorite frontier technologies, nearly three years after Google's brief, unsuccessful run at the market with its infamous smart glasses.

When criticism of the Google Glass over privacy and safety concerns led some bars and restaurants to ban the then-$1,500 smart glasses, the future of mixing artificial graphics with real-life viewing seemed more like a pipe dream than science-fiction-turned-reality.

But AR headsets are back in vogue, as Facebook-owned Oculus, Apple and the much-hyped and mysterious startup company Magic Leap all work to bring new entertainment devices to market, hoping to blend reality with the internet.

Even Google Glass made a comeback in 2017 as a niche, industrial product. The glasses are reportedly being used in factories for Boeing, DHL and General Electric, and by a few neuroscience-related startups experimenting with the technology.

Microsoft's Google Glass equivalent, the HoloLens headset, also currently sells only for commercial and development purposes. Ford reportedly uses HoloLens to design cars in augmented reality. And earlier this month, French surgeons wore HoloLens during a surgery, helping them visualize portions of a patient's anatomy during a shoulder prosthesis operation.

Meanwhile, smartphone-based AR apps like Pokemon GO are improving, and a new app this holiday season has connected with fans of the "Star Wars" movie franchise, finally bringing the possibility of mass-market appeal that once eluded Google Glass.

"We got the ball rolling this year," said Creative Strategies analyst Ben Bajarin. "We went from nobody having experienced AR to a whole lot of people experiencing it."

AR is already heading from smartphones to headsets in a natural evolution -- and that transition was seen in products this holiday season, Bajarin said, like the $199 "Star Wars" augmented reality headset and lightsaber package, built by Disney and Lenovo, which allows users to battle AR-developed stormtroopers...

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