Finally: Meta begins shipping its augmented reality glasses to developers

It’s a common story: Post your product on Kickstarter, promise a ship date in the near future and then apologetically announce delays over and over and over. A year after its initially planned ship date, augmented reality startup Meta is finally shipping its Meta 1 developer kit. The applications developers build with it will appear on Meta’s upcoming consumer-oriented glasses.

I tried on the developer edition of the Meta 1 at Meta’s new compound up in the hills west of Mountain View, California, where its software team codes in a converted chapel. The glasses have come a long way since I donned them in December. They are still bulky and heavy and a long way from the aviator-esque design Meta promises for the future consumer edition of its glasses, but they are now cleanly packaged into a product that doesn’t look too scary to place on your head.

The converted chapel in Meta's sprawling office complex. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The converted chapel in Meta’s sprawling office complex. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The experience is OK. A semi-transparent screen floats, seemingly, a few feet in front of you. You reach out your hand to interact with it. I tapped buttons, grabbed floating shapes and opened and closed my hand to explode and un-explode a model.

It still takes some time to get used to interacting with thin air. Your finger or hand are represented by a circle that glows a different color when it is at the right depth to interact with a button or object. There is no haptic feedback whatsoever, so you really need to train yourself to rely on that color change.

I am Iron Man. Photo by Matt Kitchales.

I am Iron Man. Photo by Matt Kitchales.

The main demos Meta led me through seemed very oriented toward professionals who need to interact with a menu or model hands-free. For example, Meta has made it easy to float several browser windows over part of your field of view. That’s nice, but it doesn’t take advantage of the full promise of virtual reality: allowing reality and the virtual world to interact.

I did get to see that interaction take place in the chapel, where SimX, a startup that went through Meta’s developer program, had set up a hospital bed. CEO Ryan Ribeira pulled on a Meta 1 headset. A TV behind him showed what he saw: a virtual patient lying on the bed. He used a real stethoscope to check the patient’s heart, glanced over at a virtual chart and even had a back-and-forth conversation. The application allows for an endless variety of patients — not just a single dummy like most medical students rely on today.

SimX CEORyan Ribeira checks on a virtual patient. Photo by Signe Brewster

SimX CEORyan Ribeira checks on a virtual patient. Photo by Signe Brewster

Augmented reality is clearly in its early stages. Meta CEO Meron Gribetz said Meta that while the first applications for the Meta 1 might be in offices and among advanced consumers, the company is committed to creating a product for everyone.

“I think the prosumer is ready and the consumer will be very, very shortly,” Gribetz said.