“We gave the hardware away, but made money with the data,” he said. “For every dollar of hardware we made three dollars in software and data sales.”

For this reason, companies like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Meta are researching similar technologies. For some, they could be a way to sell software and services. For others, they could be a way to sell ads, said Dr. Bautista.

However, experts say this technology could take a decade to perfect – if not longer. Some augmented reality glasses are as small and light as ordinary glasses, but do not yet offer the computing power to create convincing but unobtrusive images in everyday life.

“Sometimes it feels like ’10 years’ is the code for ‘I have no idea,'” said Dr. Balram, who developed augmented reality glasses for a company called EyeWay Vision after leaving Google.

In 2018, Intel stopped the Vaunt project before selling many of its patents to the start-up North, which it had acquired from Google. Ultimately, according to Dr. Bautista, it is just too difficult for the company to answer the many questions about the technology.

Due to privacy regulations in Europe and other parts of the world, he said the project could do more harm to the bottom line than it did. The company estimated 3 percent of its annual sales could be at risk, he said.

Now, many of the world’s most powerful tech companies are faced with the same questions.

“We can build amazing things,” said Dr. Bautista. “The hardware isn’t the hard part. The business models aren’t the hard part. It is not difficult to find ways that these devices can be used. The difficult thing is: what happens if the data is leaked? “

Brian X. Chen Reporting contributed.



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