Augmented Reality (AR) headsets could replace the smartphone as the way we connect because staring at a small screen is an unnatural and unhealthy habit. Overlaying imagery on the world using AR headsets would allow us to look up, reengage, and interpret information more intuitively in the context of our actual physical experience. Hence the scramble by many of the large tech firms to create the first truly usable AR headsets.
We think there is a better route to AR headgear. With our hardware partner we have prototyped a headset with high resolution displays, a wide field of view and a lot less weight. Despite the use of low-cost components the visual experience of our prototype, which is enabled by a very deep visual processing software stack, greatly outperforms any commercially available AR headgear.
Unlike Virtual Reality headsets, which are typically worn for relatively brief immersive experiences, the promise of AR will only be realized when they can be worn much of the day. Creating a compelling visual experience that is comfortable enough to wear for extended periods and has decent battery life is proving a real design challenge.
The visual experience of existing headsets is disappointing. The waveguide technology used by many of the key players today (Microsoft HoloLens, Magic Leap, and Snap spectacles) provides a very narrow field of view, ranging from about 26 degrees for the Snap spectacles protype to about 70 degrees for the forthcoming Magic Leap 2. The result is that the headset wearer only sees only a narrow window of AR content. The contrast is typically poor (although improving on the new Magic Leap 2). The waveguides suffer from visual “sparkles” when ambient light enters from the side of the headset. The visual experience of current early generation headsets is not going to motivate large numbers of buyers to spend thousands of dollars per unit.
The “pass through” approach used by Meta on its Quest 2 and forthcoming Cambria headsets uses forward facing cameras to capture a wide field of view blending actual and virtual reality on a high-resolution headset display. Contrast can be controlled accurately, but the headsets are bulky and uncomfortable for extended use. Apple is assumed to be using a similar approach for its initial headgear, perhaps with more streamlined packaging.
At Umajin we are always testing the latest AR and VR headsets because the Umajin Platform is designed for creating and authoring immersive 3D experiences. Our focus is on enabling the efficient creation of next-gen mobile and extended reality applications and user generated content that will transform the experience of customers and front-line workers. Creating this content ecosystem for the augmented reality is going to drive adoption, but acceptable AR headsets will be needed first. Give us a call if you are interested in working with us.