February 17, 2011

When AR Gets Serious

Tom Mulally, February 17, 2011

As technology continues it’s exponential trajectory of innovation, it is inevitable that machines will gradually integrate with our bodies. For example, inventor/futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that in thirty-to-forty years we will have nanobots in our bloodstream. In regards to Augmented Reality (AR), it will first become practicable when it can provide hands-free augmentation to our vision. First generations of AR have existed for decades in HMDs (head mounted displays) for military and specialty applications. Meanwhile, attempts at consumer AR applications have been, for the most part, novelties. The surface has barely been scratched on the potential for ubiquitous, context-aware personal mobile technology.

Lightweight flexible LCD glasses (not goggles) will provide the visual interface for AR. Next generation glasses, coupled with gesture and voice control will enable widespread implementation of AR-like technologies (though they won’t be called AR). "Situational Enhancement" will be achieved through real time inferencing. Data, images, and aural cues (a virtual "voice in your head" that YOU control) will provide ongoing assistance in communicating and performing tasks.

The glasses will also provide a convenient platform for our mobile device hardware, when it is miniaturized to a form factor of the glasses frame. We’ll be wearing them comfortably all the time, until systems can eventually be integrated into our bodies. Since the glasses are frequently exposed to light, future generations of light-gathering technology can provide the power, augmented by bio-electric charges from our bodies when in darkened spaces. The lenses will automatically respond and resolve to external conditions on a pixel-by-pixel basis, while the fully context aware technology in the frames continually gathers visual, audio, and position/environmental data and processes/integrates it via continuous web connectivity. The overlaid imagery will need to be served at millisecond display/refresh rates. These systems will become as comfortable, and necessary as corrective lenses and hearing aids currently are to the visually and hearing impaired.