You can probably imagine a situation where you need to see your phone screen at all times but cannot look down at it because your hands or eyes are on something else. I bet you can also imagine laughing in disgust if someone suggested you try wearing a Google Glass. Well, startup tech firm Vufine wants you to give a similar form-factor a try, and it thinks it can work because it doesn’t treat the device like a replacement for your smartphone.
Vufine’s product, which shares the same name, is a small display that hangs out over your face and can patch in a videofeed from most devices with an HDMI port. The company introduced the gadget in 2015 with a Kickstarter that raised $240,000 from 1,466 backers, and now Vufine has returned to the crowdfunding platform with a Kickstarter project for the next-generation Vufine+. The campaign went live yesterday, and it has already raised $45,000 of its $100,000 goal.
I’ve used the original Vufine, and I found that it quickly overcome my skepticism. While you might not want to deal with the public ridicule that comes with donning Google’s failed Glass, Vufine is sidestepping a lot of the concerns of that product by hyperfocusing its wearable for specific applications like playing Pokémon Go, drone piloting, and navigation for cyclists.
And Vufine chief executive Goro Kosaka was aware that establishing a wedge between itself and Google Glass was crucial. Beyond focusing on what you can do with it, he told GamesBeat in a conversation about how he and his team did that.
“We obviously knew that Google Glass wasn’t very successful,” said Kosaka. “Last year, when we were showing Vufine at trade shows, everyone was saying, ‘oh, it’s another Google Glass.’ People had a negative image of something you put on your glasses, so we had to start from there, and teach people how it’s different. That’s challenging but also helpful. Because, for one, we are much more affordable. And two, we are much more simple.”
The Vufine and the Vufine+ are only really similar to Google Glass in the broadest strokes. Where Glass attempted to build a new computing platform for your face that was distinct from a PC and smartphones, Vufine is simply a way to bring images from your existing devices into your field-of-view at all times.
For example, with Vufine, I was able to keep an eye on Pokémon Go even with my phone in my pocket. That solves one of the biggest issues of the game, which is that you have to have the screen on and running at all times. That means you have to dedicate one hand to your smartphone so that you don’t miss any monsters that appear. But with Vufine, I could actually get on my bicycle and not worry about only having one grip on the handlebars.
And like I started out saying, I believe that most people can think of a situation where they want to have their screen up in front of their eyes. Kosaka confirmed that is exactly what it is hearing from customers.
“There’s a continuum of use cases starting with drones and cinematography on the more prosumer end and going all the way over to Pokémon Go and AR gaming,” Vufine marketing boss Daniel Rogan told GamesBeat. “The best thing about Kickstarter, though, is all the people we got to talk to. Raspberry Pi users have been a big one. They are using that as the brains of the Vufine. But I’ve also talked to more archers than I ever thought I would. There’s also been some equestrian and yoga questions that have popped up.”
And that’s where Vufine wants to fit in. It doesn’t want you to bring the Vufine+ to the bar. They want you to bust it out when your hands are busy building something at work or recording aerial footage as a hobby with your drone. Then, when you get home, they want you to take the damn thing off when you’re in the shower before you head out to socialize with other human beings.
“We don’t imagine a world where two people are wearing their Vufines sitting across from each other while drinking coffee,” explained Rogan. “But whenever you need your Vufine, that’s where it comes in.”