Smart Glasses With Better Vision

Consumer-ready augmented reality headsets are coming soon, that’s fairly guaranteed – one larger question is: what should we expect from them.

So Many Options…

Before looking into development, it is important to understand there are different arrangements for the headsets that will directly affect how they are used.

Google Glass
Google Glass

Google Glass (link) uses a single prism at the right eye that presents information to the user in a translucent window that “floats” above and to the right of the normal field of vision.

The M100 Smart Glasses from Vuzix (link) follow the same monocular form-factor as Google Glass but the prism is more vertically centered on the eye, which provides for more true “augmented reality” where virtual data is overlaid onto real-world objects. Vuzix’s brand is far more directed to industrial use rather than consumer.

Epson Moverio BT100
Epson Moverio BT100

Epson’s Moverio BT-200 (link) uses a lens on each eye, providing stereo images for improved 3D effects and, like the M100, the Moverio smart glasses are centered on the eye to truly augment reality in real-time.

A final example is the Rift (and the newly announced “Crescent Bay” model) from Oculus VR (link), a fully immersive headset that has no view of the outside — but is often combined with a point-of-view (POV) camera that feeds directly into the binocular display. Similar systems from Sony (the Morpheus), Samsung and several crowd-funded options all follow the same concept of replacing all of the user’s visual and auditory input.

These examples show the three major differentiations: monocular, binocular and fully-immersive.

Each With Pros and Cons…

The hardware described is so distinctive that the experiences developed for them must be just as unique.

First-person experience of Google Glass
Smart glasses with a monocular arrangement will lend themselves to a secondary image rather than first-person augmented reality.

The least complicated is the monocular system: the simplicity of the single lens does limit the possibilities for augmented reality lends itself to something more like the experience of glancing at a smartphone. Most of the applications use more of a heads-up display (HUD) approach, with the information out of the main line of sight. Any attempt at immersive augmented reality is limited to a single eye; this will prevent the simulation of depth and greatly decreases the area that can be included in the display.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the fully-immersive headsets like the Oculus Rift, where the limits of an off-center, one-point perspective are entirely overcome at the cost of any natural input (any “real-world, real-time” visuals would need to be fed into the headset by a forward-facing camera). Furthermore, the experience that comes from such an arrangement will have some amount of “lag” (how much depends on the amount of processing required), which will disrupt the perception of the augmented scene as “real”. And, of course, using a highly processed video signal for an augmented reality application requires substantial computing power, which makes larger hardware necessary. The advantages are just as dramatic, the developer has full control over nearly every aspect of the experience.

In the “sweet spot” are binocular smart glasses like Epson’s Moverio BT-200, which offers an experience ideal for augmented reality applications. Smaller hardware with minimal lag and real-world visuals with HUD information displayed over the full field-of-view would be most useful for the majority of use-cases. The ability for a two-lens system to put augmented reality data over everything the user sees will make applications far more engaging:

  • real-time guidance systems  — “follow the green line towards your destination”
  • experiential programs — “looking closely at the facade, you will notice that the gargoyles are based on pop-culture figures”

Arguments can be made for each system and there will be situations where each is the ideal solution, but what design for smart glasses has enough potential that penetration of the consumer market can be achieved?

But Which Is The ‘Right’ Solution?

Basing a decision solely on pragmatic and utilitarian factors, it appears that a binocular device would be most efficient for the greatest number of applications. Of course, there are other considerations, not the least of which will be the popularity and infiltration of Google Glass once it is commercially available.

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