I was pretty excited to hear about BMW Smartglasses, and I want to explain why. This really could change everything.
Every time I look down at my instrument cluster to check my speed or for the next navigation instruction, I quietly curse. Especially on some bikes where my riding position means that the cluster or my phone is far below me. Doubly especially when I’m in a busy area, where a fraction of a second is all it takes for a car to swerve into my lane, for something to fall out of the tray of a truck (or “ute”) in front of me, or for some other minor crisis to happen.
Every time I look at my instrument cluster or phone, I wonder: How much longer until I get a HUD (heads-up-display) in my motorcycle helmet? Like fighter pilots? Or even like the HUD that you can even get in mid-range cars these days?
Well, looks like I don’t have to wonder any longer, because it’s here, finally — the new “BMW Smartglasses”.
Are you obsessed with motorcycles?
Well, I am. That’s why I created this site — as an outlet. I love learning and sharing what others might find useful. If you like what you read here, and you’re a fraction as obsessed as I am, you might like to know when I’ve published more. (Check the latest for an idea of what you’ll see.)
What are BMW Smartglasses?
BMW Smartglasses is what BMW is calling its new pair of smart glasses. BMW just announced their BMW Smartglasses on 7 July 2023. So more details are coming soon. Here’s what we know so far.
Note: “Smartglasses” is the product name that BMW is using, which is very apt (In German, you stick words together to form compound nouns). The “Smartglasses” name is for a pair of smart glasses.
BMW Smartglasses are a pair of glasses (either regular glasses or sunglasses — BMW gives you two sets of lenses) with a heads-up display that’s customised for motorcycle riders. The intention is for motorcyclists to wear these under their helmet.
It presents minimal information — current speed (and speed limit), a navigation indication, and limited other information that may depend on the model of bike (e.g. gear, or drive mode). You can customise the level of detail for the directions it provides.
The advantage of a heads-up display are that you don’t have to shift your focus from “far” to “near”. Eyes are squishy blobs of goo. Adjusting focus distance takes time and effort. So having critical information presented at the same focus distance as the road ahead greatly reduces the time and effort to observe it.
The BMW Smartglasses work with the BMW Motorrad Connected App. This is an app that connects to recent model BMW motorcycles. It’s free, as long as you have a compatible motorcycle, which means a motorcycle with a TFT display (however, excluding some models, e.g. the 310 line) or a ConnectedRide cradle.
How do BMW Smartglasses work?
BMW hasn’t detailed exactly how their AR glasses work. But generally, AR glasses all follow a common design, using holographic waveguides. Traditional waveguides use prisms to refract images from a projector to the eye, but holographic waveguides use nano-scale holographs of mirror-like optics to do the same thing in a much flatter profile. See here for more explanation on the topic.
The image that’s produced by the projector is refracted by the waveguide and projected onto your retina in such a way that you focus on it at “infinity”.
In AR glasses, the technology that’s used is an active holographic waveguide that’s switched on or off with an electric current. Basically, it’s a refractive lens that can be switched off.
As a hint to the source of the tech: BMW originally showed a smart helmet at CES in 2016. That smart helmet used technology by DigiLens, who built a 3mm thick display screen in front of the wearer’s right eye, designed to not interfere (in theory) with glasses or the helmet’s front lens.
Cool tech, but the BMW smart helmet never made it to market.
My guess, even though BMW hasn’t stated it, is that the BMW Smartglasses use plastic waveguides that Digilens uses in its latest conceptual AR glasses. But this is speculation on my part.
What Motorcycles do the BMW Smartglasses work with?
Some motorcycles that BMW has explicitly stated can use the Motorrad Connected App include:
- The BMW CE 04 and CE 02 (Electric mobility vehicles)
- The BMW R 1250 GS / RT / RS
- The last gen BMW R 1200 GS / RT / RS
- The BMW F 750 GS / F 850 GS
- BMW C 400 X
- BMW F 900 R / F 900 XR
- 2022-onward K 1600 GT line
There may be others — I don’t know.
What this means is you can’t just use these smart glasses with any old motorcycle. It needs the app, which needs certain models of motorcycle.
BMW also has a cradle that sits in place of the Garmin navigation system, and lets your phone connect to the motorcycle’s ECU, while also holding your phone and charging it wirelessly. Neat.
What are some alternatives to the BMW Smartglasses?
So, you a) don’t have a compatible motorcycle or b) just want to try something else?
I’ve been waiting for a decent helmet with an HUD for a while. A few have come to market, but from what I’ve seen, they’re not practical solutions, with the screen being too small (not being an actual HUD) and not legible in broad daylight. Some Kickstarter / Indiegogo projects have come and gone, with nothing sticking around.
Google Glass has been sunsetted. So that’s no longer a contender. But it looked cool — though distracting, as JerryRigEverything described.
So, there’s also the possibility of using AR (Augmented Reality) glasses. These do exist (like the XReal, formerly NReal), but they mostly currently work by projecting a giant screen in front of you; they don’t blend the content with your environment as a fighter plane’s HUD would. In other words, they don’t “augment”.
I’ve even loosely considered donning a pair of Apple’s Vision Pros! While this could make for a fun immersive recording of a ride, crashing with them on your eyes sounds like a terrible way to go blind. Also, I’d be limited in the kinds of helmets I can use.
Anyway, with no obvious contender yet, I don’t think there’s a real alternative to BMW Smartglasses just yet. So I look forward to trying them in real life.