The biggest barrier to true augmented vision is an HMD that can handle all the requirements. I had the oppertunity to experience what Microvision, Vuzix and ORALab/EvoOpticks had to offer. I’ll try to relate their talks and my experiences with their products and let you know if any of them have achieved augmented vision.
Microvision – Ben Averch
Ben started the presentation during the Industrial section of Workshop Monday. The first AR-style model Microvision tried was the Nomad which tried to be a hands-free automotive maintenance model. The unit was plagued by poor ergonomics and eye strain. It only used the red spectrum and they retired the product line in 2006 only two years after release.
Microvision then changed their plans to achieve an AR enabled HMD by leveraging their military contracts. The plan is to sell their Urban Warfare model (Ultra-vis) to the government and then use what they’ve learned to create a consumer model.
They see a big market for a consumer HMD display but need to solve the remaining issues before its ready for the public. I had an opportunity to try out their prototype HMD. It wasn’t a full unit, but a bulky monocle on a stick. While it didn’t give me an idea how it would function as a pair of sunglasses, it did give me a feel for the graphics. I was impressed by the clarity of the color in the monocle. The big problem I see for the first generation of HMDs will be the field of view. This prototype only had a ~25degree field of vision. The limited view will mean our early HMDs will only mimic our computer screens and not release the full spectrum of hands-free AR.
Ben has written about his experience on his official Microvision blog and has said they expect a commercial product by 2011.
It’s clear from the discussions I had with various industry members that a see-through wearable display that meets people’s expectations from both ergonomics and display performance is the big, obvious missing link in the AR solution story. We at Microvision are working hard to fill in this gap and create a technology solution that can allow this new market to take shape.
Ben also showed off their projector which at the time didn’t excite me much from an AR point of view. However, after the key note speech from Mark Mine from Disnery Imagineering, I learned that the projector had a lot more going for it than I realized.
Vuzix – Paul Travers
Paul gave us a nice history of HMDs including the failed hype of VR which has made getting money for HMDs harder to come by. On a good note, Vuzix has a good track record of selling video glasses which gives them a good base to work from once they master the AR HMD. Currently they’ve sold around 200,000 video glasses by marketing them the same way a HD TV would be sold. This might mean that augmented reality’s best bet for widespread use is to be a Trojan horse within another accepted technology (similar to how Yelp gained AR eyeballs through their Monocle easter egg.)
Unfortunately, Paul had to apologize a few times for misleading on the AR community about the “see-through AR HMDs” everyone thought were right around the corner with the 920Wrap. He hopes they can reach market by 2010, but like Microvision they still have challenges to solve.
I did get to try their video glasses, which were interesting, but I would have preferred to try out the glasses Ori tried at GDC. Paul did say that see-through AR glasses would be priced from $199-349. This sounds like a great price point that would help gain wider audiences. I know I would buy one.
This presentation delved into more historical and technical realms rather than commercial usage. Not a lot to pass along, but I did get to try their see-through HMD. The view port was around 20 degrees and seen through two reflected mirrors on the screen rather than a laser created image. They have no current plans for commercial production.
And for the history buffs, the first patent for an HMD was by Albert B. Pratt in 1916.
Overall, I was disappointed that no HMD maker had a surprise announcement that they had a product ready for release Q1 2010. Release dates of 2011 sound more like appeasement than real schedules. Having experienced the products myself, I also realize the field of view will be a problem for early developers. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to have a HMD right now, even with a 15 degree field, but the small width will limit creativity. Hopefully when they solve the lighting and weight issues they’ll also figure out how to achieve a 40 degree field of view.
This past May, I predicted true Augmented Vision would occur around 2015. After the demonstrations on Monday, I’m not going to change my prediction. While I heard many quote Moore’s Law in regards to AR, I’m not buying it yet. Moore’s Law is fed by billions (with B) of dollars which pushes the technology as fast as it can go. AR is still languishing in VR’s dead space and has to catch a few wins of its own before it can start generating real cash to take advantage of Moore’s Law.
Even if Microvision or Vuzix or Lumus release a commercial product in 2011, the software and apps to make the experience fulfilling won’t be available. I also expect the first versions of the AR HMDs will only be bought by the early adopters. It will take a few tries to make them lightweight, eye-strain free and with enough field of vision to keep people from having to rotate their head constantly. I’m all for being wrong on this one, but I expect the road to widespread acceptance will be paved with a few missteps. Cellphones took twenty years to go from the bag phone to the ultra-sleek smartphone, and while technology moves faster these days, I’m still sticking with my year 2015 prediction.