2009 will be remembered as the year augmented reality apps made the news. That was finally possible thanks to a new bread of mobile devices (Google phone, iPhone) that enable the new experience. These new devices pack the gear you need for AR: from cameras to GPS and compasses; they offer both power AND affordability. And the best part is that you already have them in your pocket.
However the fact that these devices are held in your hand is a double edge sword: yes, it’s accessible and intuitive – but at least one hand will always be tied up. Moreover, it offers a very narrow view into the Augmented world. I have dubbed this generation of AR hardware as the “HAND BAG” generation. A necessary stepping stone on the path towards the broader AR vision.
But what we really want is “NO BAG”. Hands free.
We want augmented reality directly in our field of view. Goggles.
Or better yet, cool sun glasses that BEHAVE like goggles.
So, what’s new in AR Goggles?
Vuzix is still the media darling and probably sells more goggles (Video iWear) to consumers than anyone else.
We can’t wait for the leaves on the trees in New England to turn red; that will signal the launch of Vuzix WRAP 920AV – the first commercial see-thru goggles for AR that don’t break your neck OR your wallet – scheduled for fall 2009.
As a reminder, my poll on the GDC post (which showcases yours truly donning the gizmo) shows a ratio of 47%-33% (Dork vs. Cool). We’re not quit there yet…
What else is out there?
I recently talked with Zvi Lapidot, CEO of Lumus, based in Israel and a major contender in the race to deliver your dream AR glasses.
Here’s what I captured from our discussion while wiping tasty humus with a pita bread:
Ori : Hi Zvi, you have significant experience in building optical solutions for Augmented Reality for military use; what was your goal when you embarked on designing a product for the consumer market?
Zvi: The goal was to deliver light weight, cool looking, see-thru glasses that overlay computer graphics on the screen – minus the head ache. We also needed to ensure that the brightness would be high enough for full outdoor, daylight use. We built a working prototype (see image from last year) which got closer to these objectives more than anyone before, plus it made a great impression on the market.
Ori: It does look better than the HMDs I tried in the 90’s. What are the specs of the prototype?
Zvi: From the website:
- Display format is VGA 640 x 480 pixels;
- Field of View 27.5°
- Virtual screen size Equivalent of 60″ screen at 10 ft away; 600″ at 100 ft away
- Eye motion box 10 x 10 mm
- Displays full color
- Transparency >70%
- Brightness >400 FtL
- Contrast ratio >100:1
- Eye relief 22 mm
- Input signal Composite video (NTSC or PAL)
- Weight <100g
- LOE thickness 2 mm
Ori: That’s impressive. And how did you enable AR tracking?
Zvi: By collaborating with AR specialists and Chinese partners we integrated a web camera and a compass (with 3DOF) into the prototype; and connected it to a phone with GPS. AR algorithms analyzed the video from the camera and overlaid graphics while tracking the real world. Several units of the prototype were even sold. Our eyewear has also been demonstrated for interactive gaming. Here is a game KDDI (a major Japanese telecommunications service provider) built with it employing a mobile phone (with built-in motion sensors) as a controller for AR bowling (watch at 0:47):
Ori: Cool. So when can we expect this to hit the market?
Zvi: bringing such a prototype to mass market production requires significant funding which we don’t have yet (so far we had a small funding round by angel investors including myself)
Ori: yes, I know what you mean. VCs still can’t see the huge potential of the augmented reality industry. There aren’t any commercial proof points. It’s the chicken and the egg problem once again: to invest in hardware you want to see demand for apps. Application developers can’t show demand because they rely on hardware…which is not there yet…
So what next?
Zvi: We actually weren’t satisfied with the above achievements. We thought we could do even better. So we have been designing a more ambitious version that further reduces the weight (well below 100g) and significantly increases the brightness (a must for outdoor operation). We’re using smaller-smarter electronics and focusing on aesthetics as well. This one will be really look cool.
Ori: will it include the gear required for tracking?
Zvi: Tracking will come as a plug-in component, like a “goody box” including camera, gyros, compasses etc.
Ori: And how long until we can lay our hands (and eyes) on the new beauty?
Zvi: We are currently in debug mode; planning to have the prototype ready by mid 2010. Mass market will come later.
Ori: So we might need to wait until 2011 until you offer a mass market product…well, at least it could change the ratio of Dork vs. Cool in favor of the latter…
What about cost?
Zvi: In mass market production it will be around a couple of hundred dollars.
Ori: That’s certainly reasonable. How do you plan to compete with Vuzix which reportedly plans to release see-thru goggles for the mass market as early as this fall?
Zvi: We welcome Vuzix to succeed and open the market.
What’s unique about our product is the optics. Our main advantage is the ultra-thin transparent optics that we offer and the high brightness of our display. As a result, we provide the optimal solution for outdoor AR scenarios, while maintaining a natural look and wearing comfort.
Games alfresco: Awesome. You got to demo your goggle at ISMAR this year – you know?
Zvi: We have been there a few years ago and were missing the commercial prospects. We run a business after all.
Games alfresco: oh, you are in for a great surprise this year – ISMAR will expand beyond the academia focus and will introduce new tracks dedicated to interactive media, humanities, arts and a stronger commercial focus.
Zvi: Sounds interesting – I’ll definitely consider.
Games alfresco: Hope to see you there! And keep us in mind if you want to build a kick ass demo…;)
Thanks for your insights, Zvi and all the best for Lumus. We are all counting on you.
Do we have any good alternatives?
Filed under: AR Devices