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State-of-the-Art in Augmented Reality (AR) Headsets

It really is incredible how fast this technology is evolving. I just ran across a picture from 2015 showing a guy wearing one of the early Magic Leap prototypes.

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I honestly think that we are poised on the brink of something amazing in the form of augmented reality (AR) combined with artificial intelligence (AI). We aren’t there yet, but I believe the future is closer than many people realize. I also believe that when true (and affordable) AR+AI does become available, it will dramatically change the way in which we interact with our systems, the world, and each other — that is, the way in which we work, play, learn, and socialize. I just ran across this video, which provides a tempting teaser of what is to come.  
As its name suggests, AR involves adding information to reality. In addition to text and graphics, this information could be auditory (sounds), tactile (via haptic interfaces), and olfactory (see also Smell-O-Vision Comes to Virtual Reality).
Magic Leap is a giant leap (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Magic Leap)
Of course, as we discussed in an earlier column — What the FAQ are VR, MR, AR, DR, AV, and HR? — AR is only one side of the coin. The counter point to AR is diminished reality (DR), in which we reduce (diminish) or remove (delete) information from reality. For example, if two people were having a conversation in a noisy environment like a cocktail party, their AR+MR headsets could muffle the background noise leaving only our chatterboxes’ voices crystal clear. AR and DR are subsets of mediated/mixed reality (MR), so we should really be talking about MR headsets and MR+AI, but AR is the term with which most people are familiar, so that’s what we will stick with here. There are a number of players in the AR arena. Perhaps the best known is Magic Leap. The folks at Magic Leap have been working away for a few years now, and their solution is really starting to look rather tasty (check out this video and this video).  
Now, you may think that the Magic Leap headset is OK for entertainment or business use, but that you would not be seen wearing something of this ilk as part of your everyday attire. I’m not so sure. Please bear with me because I’ve told this next bit before. I remember when the Punk Rock genre emerged in the mid-1970s. One day, while doing something or other in London, I happened to be on a Tube (underground) train. Across the aisle from me was a businessman in traditional regalia (pinstripe suit, bowler hat, furled umbrella) reading the Financial Times newspaper. Sitting on one side of the businessman was a male Goth (white face, black mascara, black clothes, big black platform boots, and a mass of jet black hair); sitting on the other side was a female Punk Rocker (tartans, torn shirt, safety pins, Doc Martens, and a spanking pink Mohawk). It didn’t seem all that strange at the time.
An early Magic Leap Prototype (Click image to see a larger version — Image source: Magic Leap)
My point is that if you were to see one person sporting an AR headset in a public setting today — like shopping at the supermarket — you’d probably think, “That’s odd.” But if 50% of the people you meet are wearing these headsets, then it won’t take long before you start wondering what information they are enjoying to which you are not privy. As one closing thought, it really is incredible how fast this technology is evolving. I just ran across a picture from 2015 showing a guy wearing one of the early Magic Leap prototypes (thsi was state-of-the-art back in 2015) — now that would raise a few eyebrows if I were to be flaunting it in my local supermarket.

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PeterTraneus Anderson

Polhemus, Inc. has been making simple AR systems for over 40 years, according to polhemus.com website. I worked for them decades ago, when their AR system used an electromagnetic head-tracking system and a five-LED helmet-mounted display. The center LED indicated the user’s line-of-sight. The four surrounding LEDs permitted the system to prompt the user to rotate their head to change their line-of-sight direction. The application was helmet-mounted-sight system for fighter aircraft, so the pilot needed only to aim their head, rather than aiming the whole aircraft. Also, the aircraft’s radar could prompt the pilot to look at items the radar had seen.

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