Vuzix to unveil first Alexa-enabled smart glasses next week — and the company's stock is popping

  • The $1,000 glasses are aimed at a "prosumer" market, such as golfers or business customers, the company said, but will eventually come down in price and incorporate new features.
  • Vuzix has a long-standing presence as a wearables maker in the enterprise technology market but is now looking toward consumers.
  • Vuzix's is one of many augmented-reality products expected out of CES, a consumer electronics trade show taking place in Las Vegas next week.
The Vuzix Blade smart glasses will be the first powered by Amazon's Alexa, as unveiled at CES 2018 in Las Vegas.
The Vuzix Blade smart glasses will be the first powered by Amazon's Alexa, as unveiled at CES 2018 in Las Vegas.

Vuzix will unveil a set of smart glasses powered by Alexa next week, as Amazon's smart assistant continues to pose a threat to leading platforms from Apple and Google.

Shares of Vuzix popped 18.6 percent Friday afternoon on the news.

The $1,000 glasses are aimed at a "prosumer" market, such as golfers or business customers, the company said, but will eventually come down in price and incorporate new features.

Voice assistants are key on smaller devices, such as glasses, where swiping is impractical. And Amazon has found a way to tap that market though small companies like Vuzix, which has a market capitalization of just about $186 million.

Vuzix's is one of many augmented-reality products expected out of CES, a consumer electronics trade show taking place in Las Vegas next week.

Augmented reality is a technology that projects computerized images onto a live video image from the real world, while its cousin virtual reality completely embeds the user in a 360-degree computer-generated world.

Depending on their quality, availability and price, these AR products could haunt Apple, which has planned its own smart speaker and is reportedly working on augmented reality glasses. But with Siri's HomePod debut delayed, Alexa seems to be stepping into the augmented reality market.

Why Vuzix believes the time is ripe for AR glasses

Vuzix has a long-standing presence as a wearables maker in the enterprise technology market, working with companies such as DHL, Airbus and Bosch. But CEO Paul Travers said he's bullish enough on the impact of new augmented reality technologies that he plans to take Vuzix glasses to consumer markets early in the second quarter of this year.

"Our opinion is that if you make something that solves a problem, there's a market for it," he said.

He said that from the early 2000s, clients had requested "Oakley-style" smart glasses, but until recently, it was difficult to package fast processing power into a small hardware package like glasses frames. But coming technologies, particularly 5G internet connectivity and faster processors, will allow more communication between the "edge" of the device and the cloud, enabling advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence to appear on small, thin screens.

Travers said that Microsoft, Google and Apple are still the only widespread platforms for developers to make augmented reality products. But, he said, limiting them to phone apps much longer, as Apple has so far done, could limit their appeal.

"How many people are going to hold the phone up? It's unnatural," he said.

Still, Travers said, his views on augmented reality are aligned with those of Apple CEO Tim Cook, who has said that augmented reality, rather than virtual reality, will prevail as a future computing platform. He said that many experimental uses of VR, such as Magic Leap, seem more like "science projects" and that his company is prioritizing real-world applications over animating creatures to jump around the field of view.

He compared virtual reality to a PDA — a self-contained device — while augmented reality was connected to the world, like an iPhone.

"I believe what Apple does — AR changes everything," he said. "VR is head-in-a-bucket stuff ... Most people are sweating after an hour. It's got issues. Technical hurdles. But with a conventional pair of glasses — just regular glasses — information comes up and just stays up in front of you. ... AR allows you to be in the real world, and there's so much more you can do."

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