Despite the ambitious portrayals of the future in TV shows and movies predating it, few of the gadgets that imaginative writers dreamed of exist. However, some of the fantastical, and more pertinent, innovations from entertainment media do exist in some form or another. Inventions like autonomous vehicles, nanorobots with applications in medicine, and specifically, augmented reality vision are quickly coming to fruition, thanks to companies who saw real value in these creative concepts.
Augmented reality is one of the technologies making significant progress these days, and the public has been privy to a few of the more novel ideas utilizing the advances in recent years. With the heads-up displays projected onto the interior of a fancy car’s windshields and Pokémon Go, AR is already present in our lives in some form. But it’s usually considered a novelty, if at all. For it to shake off this unfortunate label, the young technology must first vault a few of the pesky obstacles standing in its way.
Useful applications and content
Early AR devices like Google Glass didn’t have the robust capabilities that people expected. It essentially just allowed the viewer to walk around with a small screen in their peripheral vision, which updated them on weather and other messages much like any smartphone. At a hefty $1,000, Google asked its customers to pay a high price for shallow functionality.
Moving forward from Google Glass, augmented reality products use spatial computing that requires context to work. It needs to know that its purpose is to generate and place virtual furniture in accordance with a room’s dimensions, for instance. It is up to developers to find smarter uses for this wearable technology and AR companies to attract them.
“AR glasses are very useful for field locations, short bursts of required information, or when it comes to viewing items that are in a difficult line of sight, such as inside a plane or underneath a car, but struggle when the application requires high locational precision, extended guidance or constantly changing reference points. At the same time, designers are still challenged by where to place content for the heads up display that will be useful to the operator but not interfere with their vision, mobility or safety.” Paul Ryznar, the founder and CEO of Light Guide Systems.
The standard HCI (human-computer interaction) method within the AR arena has not been set yet. Currently, the common way to interact with menus and virtual objects in AR glasses is to move glasses around until a static ‘dot’ lays on the menu to ‘click’ an item. This is a very limited, inefficient and non-intuitive HCI method.
Dr. Yue Fei, the CTO of uSens, explained, “How we interact with virtual objects should mimic how we interact in the real world. Computer vision-based hand-tracking solutions that model a user’s hands to re-create a virtual hand – acting as the ‘controllers’ for AR glasses — allows for natural manipulation of virtual objects. This type of immersion is needed to push the entire AR industry forward; only when AR/VR companies build products that mimic how we interact in the real world will we see AR glass adoption rates increase,” he further added.
Enhanced specifications and better design
The biggest limitations of AR are battery life, memory, and graphics limitations that prevent a sleek and smooth display, and the dorkiness aspect of current form factors when one is conspicuous in public places – these all combine to create the limitation of insufficient overall user experience.
Answering to our query of how such limitations can be resolved, Jim Kovach, the COO at CrowdOptic Inc., replied, “The solution would be to have companies like Apple bite down and invest as they are doing. So, we are getting close to an inflection point. Rather than throw a bunch of crap out there as Google did with its Glasses, Apple, for example, seems to be encouraging a rollout that includes supporting a development community rather than keeping partners in the dark. The current use of AR in enterprise use cases, though limited, will have a positive effect on upcoming consumer use cases.”
In consumer settings, companies are overcoming the conspicuousness aspect through developing specific user-friendly cases. These include entertainment as well — like the Disney example where the consumer expects to be wearing AR glasses — in contrast to Google turning Glasses loose in places like bars where they spawned fights and terms like “Glassholes.”
It’s currently not hard to identify which people on the street are using AR and VR devices, simply because of their bulkiness. The current glasses design is clumsy and protrudes from the user’s face in a way that’s distinguishable from regular eyewear. It will likely stay like this until processor technology catches up to product design and allows for successful miniaturization. AR needs to be able to have solid battery life, provide a wide field of view, and bring enough processing power to the table to work with an evolving series of applications.
Though it does not seem that far-fetched as one of the AR tech companies, Lucyd has proposed an AR glasses prototype. Claiming to be the first smartglasses that are compatible with prescription lenses their design looks like a normal pair of glasses. Lucyd also has an advanced patent for real-world object detection, allowing its AR interface to intermingle digital content with the real world smoothly. Also, these smartglasses will have no buttons, switches or wires, for a sleek look with wireless charging for enhanced convenience.
“For smartglasses to enter the mainstream they have to resemble current glasses and not goggles. As such, they must incorporate prescriptions for the 75 percent of the population that requires corrective lenses. They need to be lightweight, produce high contrast images with a wide field of view to minimize eye strain, and ideally, they need to come in a wide variety of frame styles to meet individual preferences. We believe the achievement of these design goals requires a compressed lens design utilizing a free form of optics, and that Lucyd’s IP enables the incorporation of these ergonomic features,” said Clifford M. Gross, the CEO of Lucyd.
As a society, we have developed certain norms and laws for public spaces. Issues around litter, graffiti, and acceptable behavior, for example, have evolved over time, but are grounded in the profoundly analog world of real-time physical spaces and human behavior and artifacts. These physical spaces will now have associated virtual spaces, linked in dimensions of time and space.
As AR devices get more convenient by necessity, the legal community will increasingly contend with issues brought on by the technology’s growth. When a form of AR appears that is disruptive to our way of life as we know it, laws must change accordingly. The advent of texting and smartphones was a serious threat to road safety, privacy, and more, and so legislators reacted by making it illegal to text and drive and established “consent to record” laws to deal with some of the new issues ushered forth by the technology.
David Nelson, the creative director at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies’ Mixed Reality Lab, says, “Use cases will need to be defined. The industry may have a vision, but they are also interested in shipping a product. There is certainly a dystopian view of a future where we are provided a constant stream of information that pushes past the point of convenience or support and instead drowns us in a sea of data.”
AR is no different in this respect. It will be imperative to develop laws that clearly establish liability for accidents caused by AR distraction, create regulations for workplace use, and guard against unlawful intrusions by advertisers or companies into the “reality” of their customers.
The biggest challenges in an industrial setting are often practical. Current wearables often present a safety hazard in a warehouse or factory floor by obscuring the user’s vision and occluding or distracting them from potential hazards. The devices are also not sterile or particularly hygienic for operators in a hospital or medical setting, or for situations where multiple workers must share a single pair of glasses. In many cases, the devices are too heavy and cumbersome to wear throughout a standard work shift without headaches and fatigue.
Here is one potential scenario: while snacking on information, an AR green dot overlay appearing in the right location in the user’s field-of-view (FOV) can be misinterpreted as a green light in traffic, when in-real there is no green light at all.
“Keeping safety (and OSHA) perspective in mind, companies requesting workers to use optical see-through AR HMDs and smart glasses — where reality and AR overlays are continuously merged, filling the user’s FOV during prolonged use — must do their best to ensure that the employees maintain their natural peripheral, workspace vision and overall situational awareness at all times,” emphasized Dr. John C.C. Fan, the founder and chairman of Kopin Corporation.
Hacks can be devastating for users in a traditional screen medium, but imagine a hacker making their way into an individual’s AR device back-end, and seeing what the user sees (or being able to record it). Giving someone else access to what is essentially one’s consciousness, whether intentional or not, has vast implications. An unwarranted viewer may learn compromising personal details or financial information just by sitting back and observing. The chance of this occurring must be as close to nil as possible before such technology can be integrated into our daily lives.
The security concerns for AR are similar to any digital system, though there are some issues a bit unique to the technology. It also depends on the end uses for AR, as the security issues are often context specific.
Todd Richmond, IEEE member and director of the Mixed Reality Lab at USC, explains it: “For instance, if you’re using an AR display to give directions (e.g., AR-Waze), a hacker could send the wrong directions or purposely lead you to a dangerous situation. If someone was using AR glasses in a negotiation (to try and judge affective computing data, sentiment, mood, etc.), being able to spoof data could provide an advantage.”
“The same goes for the general use of AR glasses in public spaces for identifying people. There will be an entire cottage industry built around “personal counter-surveillance” — the ability to block or spoof AR systems/computer vision/voice agents will be pieces of this puzzle,” he further adds.
AR aspires to much
Just as augmented reality moved from the movie screen into our reality, it’s also moving closer to becoming a functional tool for entertainment and business. To blur the lines between reality and virtuality with a gadget is mind-boggling. As it is expected to cause a positive impact, however, there might be some alarming circumstances too. It’s important for the companies nurturing AR technology to address the many obstacles that it will encounter as it evolves, or AR will never exist in the elaborate form we’ve already imagined for it.
Thankfully, so far the progress is tangible, and we’re close to realizing this dream with each passing day as many tech companies are thriving to achieve remarkable advancement in the field of AR optics.
Aurangzeb A. Durrani is a former professional gamer and an esports analyst. His interests include esports, online gaming, tech businesses, and blockchain.