Live from ISMAR ’08: Near-Eye Displays – a Look into the Christmas Ball

The third day of ISMAR ’08, the world’s best augmented reality event, is unfolding with what we expect to be an eye popping keynote (pun intended) by Rolf R. Hainich, author of The End of Hardware.

He is introduced as an independent research and started to work on AR in the early ’90s – so he could be considered as a pioneer…

A question on everyone’s mind is: Why Christmas ball and not a Crystal ball?

Rolf jumps on stage and starts with a quick answer: Christmas balls can help produce concave mirrors – useful for near eye displays.

First near eye display was created in 1968 by Ivan Sutherland; in 1993 an HMD for out of cockpit view was built in a Tornado simulator. In 2008, we see multiple products such as NVIS, Zeiss HOE glasses, Lumus, Microvision, but Rolf doesn’t consider them as true products for consumers.

Rolf ,defined the requirements for a near eye display back in 1994. It included: Eye tracker, camera based position sensing, dynamic image generator, registration, mask display, holographic optics. And don’t forget no screws, handles, straps ,etc…

He then presents several visions of the future of human machine interaction which he dubs 3D operating system.Then he briefly touches on the importance of sound, economy and ecology – and how near eye displays could save so much hardware, power, and help protect the environment.

But it requires significant investment. This investment will come from home and office applications (because of economies of scale- other markets such as military, medical, etc – will remain niche markets.

The next argument relates to the technology: Rolf gives examples of products such as memory, displays, cell phones, cameras which experienced dramatic improvements and miniaturization over the last years. And here is the plug for his famous joke: Today, I could tape cell phones on my eyes and they would be lighter than the glasses I use to wear 10 years ago…

Now, he schemes through different optional optical designs with mirrors, deflectors, scanners, eye tracker chips, etc (which you can review in his book The End of Hardware) These design could support a potential killer app – eye operated cell phone…

Microvision website is promoting such a concept (not a product), mostly to get the attention of phone manufacturers, according to Rolf.

Rolf, then tackles mask displays, a thorny issue for AR engineers and suggests it can achieve greater results than you would expect.

Eye Tracking is necessary to adjust the display based on where the eye is pointing. It’s once thing that AR didn’t inherit from VR. But help could come from a different disciplines – computer mouse which have become pretty good at tracking motion.

Other considerations such as Aperture, focus adjustment (should be mechanical), eye controller, are all solvable in Rolf’s book.

Squint and Touch – we usually look where we want to touch, so by following the eye we could simplify the user interface significantly.

Confused? Rolf is just getting started and dives effortlessly into lasers, describing what exists and what needs to be done. It should be pretty simple to use. And if it’s not enough, holographic displays could do the job. Rolf has the formulas. It’s just a matter of building it.

he now takes a step back and looking at the social impact of this new technology: when everybody “wears” anybody can be observed. The big brother raises its ugly head. Privacy is undermined, Copyright issues get out of control. But…resistance is futile.

Rolf wraps up with a quick rewind and fast forward describing the technology ages: PC emerged in the 80’s, AR in the 2020’s, and chip implants (Matrix style) will rule in the 2050.

Question: It didn’t look like the end of hardware…

Rolf: it’s the end of the conventional hardware – we will still have hardware but it could be 1000 times lighter.

Tom Drummond (from the audience): there is still quite a lot of work to get these displays done and there is still some consumer resistance to put on these head up displays…

Rolf: People wear glasses even for the disco – it’s a matter of fashion and of making it light – with the right functionality.


From the ISMAR ’08 Program:

Speaker: Rolf R. Hainich, Hainich&Partner, Berlin

We first have a look at the development of AR in the recent 15 years and its current state. Given recent advances in computing and micro system technologies, it is hardly conceivable why AR technology should not finally be entering into mass market applications, the only way to amortize the development of such a complex technology. Nevertheless, achieving a ‘critical mass’ of working detail solutions for a complete product will still be a paramount effort, especially concerning hardware. Addressing this central issue, the current status of hardware technologies is reviewed, including micro systems, micro mechanics and special optics, the requirements and components needed for a complete system, and possible solutions providing successful applications that could catalyze the evolution towards full fledged, imperceptible, private near eye display and sensorial interface systems, allowing for the everyday use of virtual objects and devices greatly exceeding the capabilities of any physical archetypes.