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


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.

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