Through the looking glass, one subsystem at a time.

Posts Tagged ‘Vuzix

The Strong, Weak, Open, and Transparent

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So, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve felt compelled to post to this blog, but I think it’s high time for an update. I’m just going to quickly touch on a few of things I’m excited about, having just attended Augmented Reality Event 2011.

Things in the Augmented Reality world have progressed rapidly, if not as rapidly as I might once have imagined they would. In one of my first posts, I closed with an idea about streaming one’s first-person POV to a giant Microsoft Photosynth system in the cloud. The Bing Maps team, under Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Avi Bar-Zeev, is doing exactly that. With Read / Write World, Microsoft is developing what I think will be the foundation of what Blaise called “Strong AR.” This is in contrast with the “weak,” strictly sensor-based AR applications that we’re seeing on mobile devices at the moment.

To clarify, there are two paradigms of current AR usage:

One of these two is local vision-based AR using marker or texture tracking to position virtual objects relative to a camera’s perspective. This is done by calculating the homography that describes the relationship between the captured image of the tracked pattern, and the original pattern. From this, one generates translation and orientation matrices for the placement of virtual content in the scene. This is Strong AR, but on a local scale and without a connection to a coordinate system linked to the world as a whole.

The other is the AR found in most mobile apps like Layar and Wikitude. The information visualized through these apps is placed using a combination of geolocation and orientation derived from the sensors found in smartphones. These sensors are the components of a MARG array: triaxial magnetometric, accelerometric, and gyroscopic sensors. By knowing a user’s position and orientation, which are together referred to as a user’s pose, one nominally knows what a user is looking at, and inserts content into the scene. The problem with this method is one of resolution and accuracy, and this is what Blaise was referring to as “weak.” This method, however, provides an easy means by which to place data out in the broader world, if not with precise registration.

The future of Strong AR is the fusion of these two paradigms, and this is what Read / Write World is being developed for. The underlying language of the system is called RML, or Reality Markup Language. Already, if photographic data for a location exists in the system, and one uploads a new image with metadata placing it nearby, the Read / Write World can return the homography matrix. According to Blaise’s statements during his Augmented Reality Event keynote, pose relative to the existing media is determined with accuracy down to the centimeter. And the new image becomes part of the database, so users will constantly be refining and updating the system’s knowledge of the world.

Anyhow, I think Read / Write World has the potential to be the foundation for everything that I, and so many others, have envisioned. That’s on the infrastructure side.

So what about the hardware?

In the last couple of years, mobile devices have really grown up, and are getting to, or have reached, the point where they pack enough processing power to be the core of a real Strong AR system. Qualcomm has positioned itself as one of the most important entities in Augmented Reality, providing an AR SDK optimized for their hardware, on which most Android and Windows Mobile platforms are based. In a surprising move, at ARE, they announced that they are bringing their AR SDK to the iOS platform as well.

With peripheral sensor support and video output, we’ve got almost everything we need to be able to connect a pair of see-through display glasses (more on those in a little bit) to one of these mobile devices for AR experience. But the best that those connections can provide is a “weak” AR experience. Why? Because the connectors don’t support external cameras. True, there are devices like the Looxcie, but the resolution and framerate are paltry, and are a limitation of the Bluetooth connection. On top of that, the integrated cameras in mobile devices are wired at a low-level to the graphics cores of their processors and dump the video feed directly into the framebuffers, facilitating the use of optimized processing methods, such as Qualcomm’s. What we need is the inclusion of digital video input in the device connectors, providing the same sort of low-level access to the video subsystems of the devices. This is absolutely vital to being able to use visual information from the camera(s) on a pair of glasses for their intended purpose of real-time pose estimation.

So… glasses…

At ARE I got to try out a Vuzix prototype that finally delivers what I’d hoped to see with the AV920 Wrap. The new device is called the STAR 1200, for See-Through Augmented Reality. It looks a little funny in the picture, but don’t worry about the frame. The optical engine is removable and the final unit’s frame will probably look substantially different. It provides stereo 852×480 displays projected into optically see-through lenses and, let me tell you, it looks good. It is a great first step towards something suitable for mass adoption. The limited field of view coverage means that it won’t provide a truly immersive experience for gaming and the like, but again, it is a great first step. Now before I get your hopes up, this device will be priced for the professional and research markets, like the Wrap 920AR. Vuzix isn’t a big enough company to bust this market open on its own. But once apps are developed and the market grows, we’ll see this technology reaching consumer-accessible price points. I’m going to refrain from predictions of timeframe this time around, but I think that things are very much on track. Also, keep in mind that this is a different technology than the Raptyr, the prototype that Vuzix showed at CES this year. The Raptyr’s displays utilize holographic waveguides, while the STAR 1200 is built around more traditional optics. I did get to see another Vuzix prototype technology in private, and can’t say anything about it, but it is very promising.

One last development that has me very excited is Google’s new Open Android Accessory Development Kit. It’s based on the Arduino platform, making it instantly accessible to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of existing experimenters, developers, and hardware hackers, including myself. This opens up all kinds of possibilities for custom human interface devices.

Okay. That’s it for today, but I’ll write again soon. I promise.


Written by bzerk

June 2, 2011 at 12:16 pm

A Conversation With Paul Travers of Vuzix

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I just had a very interesting conversation with Paul Travers, CEO of Vuzix.

Paul explained several things to me, including that it was a mistake on their part to keep a name so similar to the AV920 Wrap when creating the Wrap 920. The Wrap product line is distinct from those previously shown, including the AV920 Wrap. There is no denying that the pictures of the Wrap series now posted on the Vuzix website do suggest that, when it is released, it will be far and away the most attractive looking “video eyewear” device to be brought to market. Paul also confirmed that there will be a stereo camera pair, as well as other accessories, for the Wrap series devices. I’ve seen a picture, and I don’t think people will be disappointed with the approach that they’ve taken for attaching cameras to the device.

The most important part of the conversation was that in which Paul assured me that Vuzix will not be abandoning the optically transparent see-through display market, and that we have a great deal to look forward to. He reaffirmed their commitment to the Augmented Reality market, and told me that he was confident that their products would continue to be well ahead of the curve and offer features unheard of at their price point. Confirming what I’d heard from people like Joe Ludwig, Robert Rice and Ori Inbar, he told me that the AV920 Wrap was an imperfect device, and that he thought it better not to release a product that didn’t meet his company’s own high standards, rather than releasing something which he thinks would have let people down. He reiterated that it had been a mistake to keep a name so similar to that of the AV920 Wrap, said that he regretted having left the AV920 Wrap up on their website for as long as they did after having decided not to release it, and also admitted that there should have been more clarification when the Wrap line was re-envisioned as it was. Yes, it would’ve been nice to have been told.

Having had this reassuring conversation with Paul, I can tell you that I still expect to see great things come out of Vuzix (if anything, my expectation are now higher). Though I’m still quite disappointed by having to continue waiting for a true consumer-oriented see-through HMD, and though I do feel a little led-on, I expect that when we do see one from Vuzix, it will far exceed the expectations initially set by the AV920 Wrap prototype shown at the last CES. More than anything, I was reassured by the frankness with which Paul admitted the unintentional mistakes that had been made in handling the separation of the Wrap line from their ongoing optically transparent display research and development. They’ve been at this for a long time, and I’m convinced that Vuzix would never squander their hard-earned credibility by deliberately deceiving their customers.

Written by bzerk

October 1, 2009 at 8:10 pm

See-Through HMD for Consumers Further Off Than Expected

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Note: When you’re done reading this, please see my followup post.

Today we have received confirmation from Vuzix CEO Paul Travers that the highly anticipated Vuzix Wrap 920, previously known as the AV920 Wrap, will not, in fact, be a see-through head-mounted display (HMD). It will instead be a “see-around” model. This means that the LCD viewing elements will be opaque, as in previous models, but will be suspended behind a sunglasses-style lens without obstructing the peripheral view around the display. In previous HMD devices this wasn’t generally the case because one doesn’t view the LCD panel and light source directly as one does a typical computer or television monitor. Put simply, an HMD requires focal optics so that your eyes can focus on something so close without giving you a headache.

(See this previous post where I reported on being told by Robert Rice, and then Vuzix, that the AV920 Wrap would, in fact, be a true optical see-through HMD.)

Presumably Vuzix will still be offering a stereo pair camera accessory for the Wrap 920, as was supposed to be produced for the original AV920 Wrap, but it’s hard to know what to expect at this point.

So while this does represent an incremental step forward in Vuzix’s offerings, it isn’t the one we were promised. More importantly, it isn’t the one we’ve all been waiting for.

I am, of course, disappointed by this news. After Lumus Optical went back to the drawing board, as they told Ori Inbar they had done in this interview on his his blog, Vuzix was the only company still promising a see-through head-mounted display for consumers any time soon.

Now? Well, we’re left waiting for:

  1. Somebody to get serious and invest some real VC money in Lumus
  2. Sony to produce something using using their holographic waveguide technology
  3. Konica Minolta to further develop their Holographic Optical Element technology
  4. Microvision to show that they’re serious by showing something other than a Photoshopped concept illustration (Microvision has been subcontracted to develop a new see-through HMD for the military under the ULTRA-Vis program, but who knows when that might lead to development of a civilian device)
  5. something unexpected to show up.

I had been hoping to be able to use a see-through HMD in the ISMAR demo presentation on which I’m working with Seac02 using their awesome LinceoVR software. It looks like we’ll have to make do with the conventional HMDs already at our disposal.

Maybe we’ll still see released products using Vuzix’s touted “Quantum Optics” before we get our quantum computers.

Written by bzerk

September 30, 2009 at 4:03 pm