To See or Not to See? It’s Time to Focus on AR Glasses

Augmented Reality (AR) pioneer and Intel Corporation Research Manager Ronald Azuma has said that the current most important challenge of the field is to develop useful and meaningful consumer-ready AR that goes beyond the gimmick. At the recent Electronic Imagining 2018 conference, Azuma also said that we should re-frame the challenge with AR headsets and glasses by seeing their design as an opportunity to help consumers see better.

At just under 53 minutes, Azuma’s presentation is an investment in time, but a highly recommended one whether you are an AR newcomer, user, developer or anything in between.

You can watch it here. You can also get a good overview of it via this Next Reality article.

In researching virtual reality (VR) for months, I have also had to keep up on the AR field, as you can’t talk about one without the other even though they are so different – they face similar issues. Azuma’s presentation had the clearest and most to the point information that I have come across yet. Also appealing is how down-to-earth Azuma is about the topic. So often, you hear the exaggerated marketing talk of “the best” this or “the breakthrough” that or the “real game-changer”. Azuma leaves the superlatives out speaks in a language that even non-technical people can understand.

It is getting more and more important for even the layperson to understand the potential of AR and how far it can go beyond the Pokémon Go experience.

Azuma talks about the importance and benefits of AR use for companies for training and marketing and uses that do not even exist yet. But if AR only gets picked up in the world of industry and enterprise then it will remain niche, he says. He talks about consumer uses such as creating personal stories, with his wedding as an example. He takes us to the gazebo he got married in and imagines using AR to fill it in with memories. The power of being able to fill in real spaces with meaningful objects that you can interact with could really appeal to the consumer. Azuma sees AR’s potential to connect people with everyday spaces in a personal, often small-scale, yet spectacular way.

Whether for AR or VR, the biggest complaints always come down to the headsets, the glasses, the cables and the gadgets, among other issues such as field of vision, light reflection, quality of image and so forth. Every time I put on a shared headset, I have to admit; I get kind of grossed out by the eye smears and sweat left behind by someone else on the glass and the fabric. My multifocal glasses become malformed and blurry every time I have to adjust the glasses or program, which unfortunately is a lot (but that’s for another post).

What really caught my eye in Azuma’s speech was his way of gently bursting the bubble of the AR glasses problem. Convinced that there is currently no other possibility than some sort of glasses for AR use, Azuma decides to go with it rather than fight against it. He cleverly reminds us that we use goggles for swimming; ski glasses for skiing; protective glasses on the work floor; reading glasses for reading and other glasses for other purposes. It makes you wonder why we are fighting so much against glasses in the AR world. Azuma seems to say that, at least for now, it’s time we adjust our mindset, remove all of that negativity about glasses and embrace and promote them –while improving them and everything else about AR as well, of course.

While lenses for AR placed directly on our eyes sound ideal, Azuma says we are nowhere near being able to make and market those as the expense is too big and different eyesight prescriptions make it almost impossible, at least at the moment.

Why not change our view and start to imagine our own personalized sets of AR glasses with only our eye smears and sweat on them, adjusted to our own specific eyesight?

As with most things, it’s all how you sell it. Perhaps it’s time to put the focus on how cool all these new AR glasses are going to be. Google Glasses tried and failed and created a kind of stigma around anything that might resemble them. Don’t be surprised if we end up with something that looks quite similar though hopefully works a lot better.

Speaking of AR glasses, or rather mixed-reality (MR) ones, the mysterious Magic Leap is still one of the glasses manufacturers that everyone is keeping their eye on. They promise a magical user experience through speaking to our “visual cortex” in a “biologically friendly way,” according to their CEO. But how? You may wonder. Well, check out this article via Next Reality to see what is included in the recent Magic Leap patent application. The question remains, as posed by many, if there’s more to Magic Leap than meets the eye.

by Sarah Markewich – SIVAR project intern spring 2018