Augmented reality is any technology that visually overlays digital information with the real world. It’s typically viewed both as an intermediate technology to full virtual reality, and as a useful and complete technology in its own right. Augmented reality products have existed for some time, from glasses to headsets to video screens, but bottlenecks in technology have prevented them from gaining mainstream attention. Until now.
In 2008 Smartphones started to push augmented reality into the mainstream with apps that overlaid information from the web into video feeds from the phones’ cameras. Unfortunately, due to their small screens and limited functionality smartphones have limited usefulness as augmented reality devices. Still, AR’s use in smartphones has created additional interest in the technology from the mainstream public.
Google has given augmented reality its biggest push into the mainstream yet with its Google Glass project. The increased media attention has been good for augmented reality and has helped push many other companies to start similar projects of their own. But what is Google doing different than all the companies before it? They are selling a product with their name on it, and not much else.
Google’s concept video for their product is misleading. In the demo their augmented display is shown operating in someone’s entire field of vision, with both the display and real world in focus. With the technology they are using, this is not possible.
In reality, their glasses will display information in a very small portion of a corner of your vision, and you’ll only be able to keep Google’s display in focus when directly looking at it–which will then make the real world unfocus. Design wise, Google Glass looks as if it will make no fundamental improvements over past augmented reality glasses.
Innovega has recently found one method of bypassing the limitation that holds Google back, they’re calling their technology iOptik. By using contact lens to selectively enhance the wearer’s vision, their display technology enables full field of vision display and complete ability to keep both the real world and the display information in focus. Like Google’s video demonstrates, but real.
This also enable high quality entertainment experiences. When gaming or watching movies, Innovega’s display should be roughly equivalent to being 10 feet from a 240-inch television screen, with full support for 3D.
Innovega’s technology is an impressive breakthrough that could potentially move this field forward significantly. The iOptik’s only major disadvantage is having to wear both contacts and glasses. Admittedly this is a significant disadvantage, and could end up preventing the product from going anywhere.
The future of AR
Regardless of how these companies and their products fair, the can of augmented worms is open for the mainstream and won’t be closing again. Companies from video game developer Valve to software giant Microsoft are all developing their own augmented reality products. No matter who loses and wins in this new playing field, technology will move forward–and humankind will take one more step towards integration with technology.