The Headset of the Future
A guest post from Will Gee, the co-founder of Balti Virtual. His company specializes in augmented and virtual reality solutions for businesses. If there’s an event about extended reality in the MD area, you can bet he’ll be there!
Fresh from the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it’s clearer than ever: In the not-too-distant future, we’ll have a mass-market XR (virtual reality + augmented reality) headset that will transform the way we interact with the digital world.
This headset will deliver experiences that range from fully immersive virtual reality (VR), to very light augmented reality (AR), or even “actual reality” (no computer generated imagery at all).
This ability to switch between VR and AR could be accomplished in one of two ways:
Additive display + dimming - adding a “blackout” mode to existing AR headsets like the Microsoft Hololens or Magic Leap One. In addition to the dimming capability, this approach will require significant improvements in the Field of View (FOV) of existing AR headsets.
Passthrough video - adding a camera to existing VR headsets to show the real-world. Steps are being made in this direction with add-on devices like the Zed or even the Vive Pro’s cameras. This tech should take the next step with the Oculus Quest in spring 2019, and Apple’s acquisition of Vrvana hints that they are interested in this approach as well.
This headset will be able to map and recognize your space as well as 3D objects (like Hololens and Magic Leap), which will enable a number of initial use-cases:
Augmented workplace - Industry specific applications will be the early winners here. Overlaying step-by-step directions on equipment, using computer vision for inspection, and sharing your first-person perspective with a remote expert will make AR tech attractive for many industries.
Custom immersive games - Content can be tailored to your space. For example: your house becomes a medieval castle you must defend from invaders breaking down your walls, or the floor becomes virtual lava.
Augmented smart home - Pairing smart devices with AR will breathe new life into Alexa and Google assistant. Instead of a disembodied voice calling out from across the room, these assistants will take shape as avatars and offer richer interfaces to users.
The ultimate XR headset will likely offer a few different input options:
A high-precision tracked controller - Essentially a 3D (6 DOF) mouse. This will be useful when accuracy is important or extra buttons are helpful (content creation, gaming)
Hand tracking - Used for input comparable to a smartphone or tablet where accuracy isn’t as important as usability. More advanced systems (Leap Motion) have demonstrated really interesting UI concepts here.
Eye tracking - This will likely be a standard feature on headsets soon, mainly to save computing power with foveated rendering. Using eye focus as input has a lot of potential to combine high speed and accuracy.
Fit / Features / Future
Eventually this headset could be as fashionable as the sunglasses you wear in public, but it will take several iterations to get there (Focals by North and nReal’s AR Glasses were strong steps in this direction this year). The current generation of devices make distinct tradeoffs between price, features, and size. As the technology matures, less trade-offs will be required.
While we are a few years from the sleek, powerful, and mass-market friendly device that will represent XR’s version of the iPhone moment, it’s not hard to see the component parts start to take shape across multiple devices.