AR is the future, but

Posted: 12.16.15

For universal consumer use, there are still some obstacles

AR, like VR, is and has been, used for industrial, military, and scientific applications in controlled environments, and by professionals who understand and tolerate the technologies’ limitations (while simultaneously helping to improve it). The problem with our industry is that when an interesting technology like AR, VR, or neural gaming gets a little coverage, the press, and Wall Street hot shots, jump to conclusions and extrapolate it to the next revolution, the new DVD, or UHD. Then when that doesn’t happen within their short-range vision, they declare it a failure and go looking for the next shiny thing—the well-known, well-documented Hype Curve.

AR, VR, and neural gaming will suffer such fates, too, like the 3DTV rubble pile and the S3D PC gaming trash can. However, we have a few more rallies to contend with first. Soon you will hear about and be talking about, Mixed Reality. HoloLens and other “mixed reality” tech like CastAR and Magic Leap are different from augmented reality —and are different from virtual reality. My friend Neil Schneider, who runs the Immersive Technology Alliance, likes to bundle all the reality-removing technologies into a basket he calls Immersive Reality. I think that is a better basket name than mixed reality, or VR or AR, or neural gaming. But logic doesn’t always prevail in big companies with big marketing budgets. GOOGLE GLASS

However, I’m a big proponent of AR and can’t wait for it to happen. Nevertheless, I also see the obstacles and even have some suggestions. 

First there is the 2,000-yard stare, the Google glass vacant look as the wearer focuses on the screen or out into space. 

My, ahem, vision of an effective pair of AR glasses is one that isn’t obnoxious, calling attention to itself (e.g., Glass), making the wearer look like a geek, and taking our attention away from those around us, or potential obstacles in our path.

AR GLASSES make you Tom Cruise in The Minority Report.I think we will all wear AR glasses just as we now wear corrective and sunglasses, but the display will have to be smart and move its focal plane to where we are looking, up close if we’re reading or talking to someone, farther out if we’re walking or trying to find a street sign. 
Second is power: less is better. I don’t want to pull a GPU around. 

The new generation of SoCs like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 820 are power misers, and surely will be used for the next generation of AR glasses (AKA “smart” glasses; since we have “smart” phones, I guess our glasses have to be smart too). 

Tethered glasses (AKA “Granny” glasses) are sensible, logical, and practical. You never lose them; you can take them off when not needed and quickly recover them when they are needed. Now envision the center rear of the chain holding an AA battery, and the chain is a super lightweight flexible, and decorative, power cable. And maybe it’s also an inductive antenna that is getting fed by force sensors in your shoe. 
Third is content and big data, a variation on Peddie’s second axiom, The more you can see, the more you can do. 

For AR to really augment our lives, we need to have data streaming at us, as well as locally stored. Our AR glasses need to know where we are, and where we’re heading, and anticipate what we might want or need to see ahead. That’s a potentially big data load and puts a big demand on the network. Microcells will help manage that, and our glasses will advise our big-data suppliers on our preferences. We may also do a mini flight plan and tell our glasses, I’m going to the grocery store, or I’m going to the bar, airport, etc. Then only relevant information in our path will be delivered. FOR EXTENDED wear today, you need a ground power unit.

I’ve always wanted a camera somehow connected to my eyes. AR glasses could do that for me. If I blinked three times rapidly it would take 10 quick photos of wherever I was looking; if I blinked five times, it would take a three-minute video. Alternatively, maybe it records all the time and I blink to say save the last two or three minutes. And “save” means to cloud ,in case what I am capturing is life threatening and I don’t make it—my personal black box. 

Of course, if the glasses were perfect, I’d never get into such a situation. AR can’t happen fast enough for me.