With all eyes on Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift, Microsoft has quietly bought up six already-issued and 75 in-progress patents for augmented reality glasses, originally taken out by wearable computing company Osterhout Design Group. That's according to a report over at Tech Crunch.
You can see the patents here - they were reassigned to Microsoft on 17th January 2014. Tech Crunch has yet to receive comment from the manufacturer, but it has spoken to ODG founder and head Ralph Osterhout, who confirmed that the acquisition had taken place but declined to give details. According to one of the site's anonymous contacts, Microsoft paid up between $100 and 150 million for the patents.
The technology described by the patent documents is scarily impressive. I've attached a gallery of figures, obtained from Google's patent database. One patent stipulates a pair of see-through glasses equipped with an on-board processor, which is used to run small projectors that display an image on the surface of the glass, allowing the wearer to view various kinds of data and the surrounding environment simultaneously. Another pairs the device with a sort of fancy watch, which is used to control what you view through the glasses.
Osterhout's website carries an image of a prototype, below, plus a short breakdown of the device's capabilities. The prototype packs a multi-core processor running a custom Android OS, integrated wifi, Bluetooth and GPS, inertial measurement unit sensors to track movement and position, and "dual HD 3D displays".
Microsoft has long been rumoured to be working on a set of augmented reality glasses. A "Fortaleza" patent uncovered last August posits a device equipped with wireless internet, motion and voice sensing functions, which can be used to play simple AR games - hardly worlds away from Osterhout's concept.
While it's possible that Osterhout will now develop the technology on Microsoft's behalf, I suspect that the acquisition has more to do with avoiding any legal conflict, once the latter unveils its own device to the world. As ever, colour all this modestly informed speculation till we're treated to an official announcement.