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Meta Attracts Big Investors for New Augmented Reality Glasses

Screenshot 2014-05-20 23.05.06

Up in the hills above Silicon Valley, a group of 30- and 20-something engineers are living and working together in Portola Valley, Calif., in what could be called part modern-day commune, part high-tech kibbutz. The company is called Meta, and the team is working on a potentially revolutionary augmented reality eyeglass product.

One thing to keep straight: augmented reality isn’t virtual reality. Meta’s product is called “Spaceglasses,” and rather than being immersed in a virtual reality environment, the glasses allow for enhanced, 3-D holograms that allow you to touch, move and manipulate images with your hands.

Meta was founded by Meron Gribetz, a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces technology unit. Gribetz and his partners have attracted more than $10 million from a range of high-profile investors, including Dolby Digital, Paul Graham’s Y Combinator startup incubator as well as Zappos’ founder Tony Hsieh and Reddit’s Alexis Ohanian.

“You can imagine a world where you don’t need these flat devices, and remember if they are charged or in your briefcase, you just have a pair of glasses that encompass everything,” Gribetz said. The Spaceglasses will be available starting this fall on the company’s website for $3,000.

Gribetz admits the bulk of the initial applications will be designed for businesses. And while it’s still early days for augmented reality technology, Meta does have a few competitors, including Recon Instruments, creator of Jet sports-oriented smart eyewear and Vuzix, which makes video-based smart glasses.

Meta’s Spaceglasses are often compared with Google Glass, but the two products are actually very different. For one, Meta’s glasses are three-dimensional and present holograms, while Google Glass applications are presented in a two-dimensional environment. (Google Glass will go on sale for one day only on Tuesday to the general public for $1,500.)

So if Meta’s Spaceglasses are out of reach for most consumers at $3,000 a pair, then who is the product actually designed for?

Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen says Meta’s glasses will initially be used by business that works in three-dimensional environments with their hands, including product engineers. Among the potential applications for Meta’s Spaceglasses, Nguyen said architects could show holograms of a future building and the diagrams could be presented to their clients.

Nguyen added interior designers could show customers what a couch would look like in an existing room. And there is a lot of interest in augmented reality applications in the field of aerospace and airplane design, Meta said it’s already met with officials from Boeing to discuss future applications.

There is also potential for the glasses to be used in entertainment and consumer video applications.

“Most of all, entertainment and gaming stand to benefit from this. People want to see a 300-inch TV screen that is 3-D. They want to see the Jurassic Park dinosaur’s head swinging around their living room and, when they freeze frame, they can walk around that head because we are tracking the world,” Gribetz said.

He said he isn’t interested in selling his company anytime soon, but could be open to going public at some time in the future. Gribetz added that Meta is focused on creating a compelling product, and we’ll see whether consumers and businesses are keen to buy the high-tech, and high-priced glasses.

Reprinted by permission.

About the author: Mark Berniker and Josh Lipton

Mark is CNBC’s Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bureau Chief covering technology and digital media in Northern California.

Josh Lipton is CNBC’s technology correspondent, working from CNBC’s Silicon Valley bureau.

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