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Monthly Archives: April 2018

April 27, 2018

Cheaper AR glasses coming from WaveOptics – EVG partnership

Cheaper AR glasses from WaveOptics and EV Group

Cheaper AR glasses, are on the way to the market thanks to a new collaboration between Britain’s WaveOptics and EV Group. WaveOptics is the world leading designer and manufacturer of diffractive waveguides. EVG is an Austrian manufacturer of process equipment for the semiconductor industry.

The aim is to combine WaveOptics’ advanced waveguide technology with EVG’s manufacturing expertise to mass produce cheaper AR glasses. As David Hayes, the CEO of WaveOptics has explained.

This partnership marks an AR industry inflexion point and is a critical step in the mass manufacture of high quality AR solutions – a capability that has not been possible to date.

A combination of EVG’s expertise together with our scalable and versatile technology, will allow AR-end user products to be on the market for under $600 by the end of next year.

This collaboration is key to unlocking the development of AR wearables; together we are well positioned to bring mass market innovation in AR, opening new paths to scalability at a lower cost than ever before.

Cheaper AR from EV Group and WaveOptivs

EVG lab

But WaveOptics is at pains to emphasize the scalability of their technology and foresees its waveguides as the optical component for cheaper AR glasses. Indeed, Markus Wimplinger, their director of Corporate technology development and IP, has stated:

We develop new technologies and processes to outperform the most complex challenges, helping our customers to successfully commercialise their new product ideas. For the proliferation of our leading edge Nanoimprint Lithography (NIL) technology, we have created our NILPhotonics Competence Center.

Within this framework, which has strong policies to protect our customers’ IP, we support our customers on their product development and commercialisation journey from the feasibility to the production phase. This is exactly what we are doing today with WaveOptics, an established leader in AR, to provide a truly scalable solution to end customers.

Competitors

But the alliance is not without its competitors. Thus, industry insiders note that the WaveOptics-EVG partnership will be vying with Vuzix (WaveOptics’ main rival in the manufacture of cheaper AR glasses) for such customers as Apple and Facebook for their technology.

Apple has been hovering on the edge of both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. They are poised to make their move when the time is right. Facebook has already jumped into the deep end of VR, with their purchase of Oculus, but are now planning on branching out into AR too.

WaveOptics

In fact, as recently as March, Vuzix claimed that it has signed non-disclosure agreements with 10 potential customers whom they claim are now in the due diligence review phase. Furthermore, last December, Quanta (a member of Apple’s supply chain) and Israeli optical technology company Lumus teamed up to make headsets costing less than $1,000.

EV HQ above

New technology needed

One of the things that has been holding back cheaper AR glasses, according to Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap is the cost and quality limitations of the existing hardware. Indeed one of the reasons that Apple has yet to enter the fray with anything more than operating system support for AR is because of the lack of the necessary developments in hardware.

cheap AR glasses from WaveOptics

WaveOptics glasses

"The technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way," he told Vogue in 2017. He added that "Something that you would see out in the market any time soon would not be something that any of us would be satisfied with," emphasizing Apple’s ongoing striving not just for quality, but for perfection.”

A worker in the production lab

However this may change with the WaveOptics-EVG partnership. For example, EVG reckons that they could supply machines for implementing WaveOptics' existing technology in as little as four months. And David Hayes has made clear that WaveOptics is open in selling its technology to AR product makers and platforms on a non-discriminatory basis.

Indeed, one of WaveOptics great strengths and market advantages is that their technology can be implemented in both glass (the traditional medium for AR) and plastic, which is both cheaper and more reliable.

April 23, 2018

Military augmented reality

Military augmented reality

In the past we reported in the past how AR is being used to reduce the maintenance skills gap in the US armed forces. So it should come as no surprise that even while AR struggles to get a foothold in the overpriced civilian market that military augmented reality technology is still going strong.

According to a 124-page report published by Research and Markets, the world’s military will spend about $1.79 billion on AR by December 1, 2025. Going back only as far as last year, the figure for 2017 was $511 million. This marks a compound growth rate of 17.4% per annum over an eight year span.

The report - Military Augmented Reality Market to 2025 – Global Analysis and Forecasts by Components, Product Type & Functions - takes both a broad and a detailed look at how developments in augmented reality is having an impact on the military.


Of course, one of the key differences between the military and civilian sectors is that price is no object to the military. In contrast, all but the wealthiest would balk at a set of AR goggles costing $3000. But that is peanuts for the military.

The key piece of military augmented reality hardware for the military is the so-called “heads-up” display: a Head Mounted Display (HMD). This enables the wearer to see the real-world about them, while at the same time, supplying the kind of data that would normally appear on a screen. Thus the wearer need never look down, or take their eyes off the surrounding environment. In the military, this is called “situational awareness”.

The main piece of data that military personnel need, while in the field, is navigational data. But they need to be aware of the presence and location of hostile forces and other dangers (e.g. land mines) at the same time.

Besides navigational data, heads-up displays can be used to supply information from HQ or other units, field orders, status updates, etc. This can facilitate better coordination between land, air and sea combat and intelligence units.

Military augmented reality in Future warfare

Future warfare

Old and new players

However, the most important and compelling use of military augmented reality is to assist combat units with rapid friend-foe identification. This is a vital component of combat readiness in order to avoid the horrendous mishap of friendly fire - which both costs lives and is extremely damaging to combat morale and national consensus.

But it is not just the big boys like the USA, Russia and China that are procuring these military augmented reality systems. It's not even just hi-tech countries with advanced military needs, like Israel and South Korea. On the contrary, hi-tech but recently peaceful Japan, oil-rich Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are buying into the new military technology.


And even less wealthy countries are getting in on the act. For example, South American market leaders like Brazil and Mexico, and third-world but populace India. Not to be outdone, the United States Defense Department is putting increased financial resources into military augmented reality technology, specifically to facilitate heads-up navigation.

One of the core technologies being developed for the US military is BARS (Battlefield Augmented Reality Systems). This development is being spearheaded by the Advanced Information Technology of Naval Research Laboratory. They are working in collaboration with Columbia University on this project.

But other companies such as the old mainframe computer manufacturers and some of the new hi-tech players are also getting in on the act. Companies mentioned in the report include: BAE Systems, Applied Research Associates, Inc, Google (now a subsidiary of Alphabet), Osterhout Design Group and Six15 Technologies.

But what is significant in this report, is that while the US and Canada remain the biggest procurers of military augmented reality, it is likely that their combined percentage share of the market will drop from its 2017 level of 70%.

April 20, 2018

Infinity War Iron Man helmet

Infinity War helmet

With the film Avengers Infinity War due for US release on April 27 (April 26 in the UK), Hasbro is taking advantage of the Hollywood tie-in to bring out this Augmented Reality Iron Man helmet and Hero vision app to enable kids (from 8 upwards) to play the role of Iron Man in their own Marvel/Avengers universe.

Iron Man helmet - the full kit

Iron Man helmet

This is basically like the VR You download the app, put down the markers to mark off the play area, insert a compatible mobile phone (not all phones are compatible, and it doesn’t come supplied with one) and you’re away!

The view through the Iron Man helmet

The view through the Iron Man helmet

It is augmented reality, because when you put the mask on, you see the world overlaid what Iron Man would see. In other words, you get the thrill of playing Tony Stark, assuming the Iron Man persona and blasting into action. Furthermore, the App also has a videogame to defend the world against the forces of Thanos. And just so you don’t get bored, there are 10 levels of play. It’s fun and seriously addictive.

Boy playing with Iron Man helmet

Boy playing with Iron Man helmet

When it first came out, there was a bug, causing the app to stall with the starting screen. But as of March 24, that bug has been fixed and it works fine. However, it doesn’t follow the plot of Infinity War precisely, but Hasbro has promised some surprises, tied in with the movie. So, stay alert and keep your eyes peeled.

Just a quick word about compatibility.

iOS 10 or 11: iPhone 6, iPhone 6s, iPhone7, iPhone8, iPhoneX.
Android 7: Google Pixel 1, Samsung S7, Samsung S7 edge.

However, it cannot support any iPad devices, “Plus” phones (iOS or Android) Notes phones or the Samsung.

Iron Man helmet with markers and repulser gauntlet

Iron Man helmet with markers and repulser gauntlet

VERDICT: If you love the Avengers franchise and enjoy gaming, you MUST buy this!

April 19, 2018

Tracker glove brings virtual office closer

ZeroKey glove hand and finger tracker

The tracker glove from Canadian startup ZeroKey could be just what's needed to make the virtual office a reality.  

We've written in the past about the virtual office and the technologies that would be needed to make it a reality. Such technologies may include real keyboards positionally-mapped against a virtual counterpart, a wrist-worn gesture tracker (not a tracker glove as such. however depth sensing cameras that can track fingers to millimeter positions in 3D, or even technology that can sense the electrical impulses in the nerves of the lower arms, hands and fingers.

Other needed technologies are higher resolution and greater Field of View. This is promised by the the Star VR headset and the  Pimax 8K

But the latest visitor to the party is a hand and finger tracker glove from Canadian start-up Zerokey. They have developed a sleek and elegant glove that enables millimeter level tracking of your hands and even your fingers.

Zero key tracker glove

Zero key glove

The designers at ZeroKey have made the prototype gloves of an elastic microfiber material, that is porous, reducing sweat and discomfort. The elasticity, allows freedom of movement, while maintaining a tight fit, to ensure precise location tracking.

ZeroKey tracker glove in closeup

ZeroKey glove in closeup

Unlike many prototypes, this one doesn't have loose wires going all over the place. Even at this stage, they have thought about the aesthetics of the design as well as the functionality.The black microfiber that covers the hardware, has a quietly understated, conservative professional look. The blue lines - redolent of science fiction - are conductive fibres linked to the sensors.

Upon reflection, white may have been a better choice for the main color. Think 2001: A Space Odyssey. Come to think of it, consider how Apple Computers would have made it. But it's early days yet. At this stage it is only a protoype. ZeroKey are currently developing an SDK for the glove and are taking indications of interest from developers on their website.

April 19, 2018

AR Projectors – a partial solution at best

Desktop projector

HTC is offering an AR projector as an alternative to a conventional AR visual overlay.

The problem is how to overlay a transparent lens with an image or text? A mini-projector that projects an image onto the lens such that it bounces back to the eye? Build LEDs or liquid crystals into the lenses themselves? Or maybe an external projector in front of the lens, that projects the image into the eye?

HTC and Swift Creatives have come up with another solution - and something of a low-tech one at that! Project the images outward onto real-world objects themselves - in short, an AR projector

This solution is devilishly simple, because it taps into age old technology. One can be cooking in the kitchen, doing woodwork in the shed or playing chess on the living room coffee table. What this AR projector does is turn the work surface - or play surface - into a screen. With the appropriate sensor technology, the work surface would even be a touch screen.

Worktop desktop projector

Worktop projector

New lamps for old

None of this is really new. It has been offered as a commercial product by Sony, a developer's kit by Lampix, developed in prototype by Carnegie-Mellon University and some of us even remember a monochrome keyboard projected onto surfaces as far back as the beginning on the nineties. In fact this projected keyboard has been given a new lease of life and is available to this day as a virtual keyboard peripheral for smart phones. (There are a number of models in fact.)

Both the HTC and the Lampix versions are literally camouflaged as lamps. In contrast, the Sony Xperia Touch is box. one significant upside is that these AR projectors produce an overlay that is visible to everyone in the vicinity. It is not a one-person only product. Of course, in some cases, this may actually be a downside. After all, one of the uses of AR could be to give an alert. As in... "person of interest!"

AR projector

Desktopology

However, there is another downside to these AR projectors - or rather a limitation. It is a fixed place product to be used indoors. Yes, the Sony Xperia Touch can be moved from room to room. But it is still too bulky for the out of doors, and not a smart enough product to interact with the current situation.

Now, there is one prototype that can be used out and about. See the video below:

Unfortunately, it can still only project onto a flat surface. Therefore, if you want to be able to walk down the street and be guided by a map hovering in front of you, then none of these AR projectors will suffice.

In the meantime, you can pick up a virtual projection keyboard or trackpad for a bargain price.