Many big and well-funded technology companies are working on augmented-reality glasses, which superimpose digital content including images into a user’s view of the real world.
One of the very few companies actually shipping such a headset is Osterhout Design Group.
ODG’s founder, Ralph Osterhout, sat down with Wall Street Journal technology columnist Geoffrey Fowler to discuss how augmented-reality glasses work and what businesses might do with them.
MR. FOWLER: So what exactly is this product?
MR. OSTERHOUT: It’s a high-speed computer on your head. Basically, it allows you to have photorealistic imagery anywhere, anytime. And most important, it can give you cloud access to anything.
MR. FOWLER: Inside the glasses there are cameras in the front, small sensors and screens. Tell me about the technology.
MR. OSTERHOUT: Inside you have two screens that essentially are photorealistic in terms of image quality. They adjust automatically to ambient conditions. You also have the lenses in front that either get dark or light, depending on the conditions around you, whether you are inside or out.
MR. FOWLER: What can you see when you’re wearing these glasses inside?
MR. OSTERHOUT: You can watch movies. You can literally do almost anything, measure anything, get any information from the Cloud anywhere 24/7.
MR. FOWLER: Do you have to take Dramamine before putting smart glasses on?
MR. OSTERHOUT: Not at all. You never get sick.
MR. FOWLER: Why not?
MR. OSTERHOUT: It’s pure physics. You have an occipital lobe that governs sight, and you have your temporal lobe governing hearing, and as long as your brain understands that your imagery and sensations coming into your brain are in sync, you don’t get sick.
Everybody says, “Oh, well, it’s all about latency,” [the delay between what you see and your body’s motion]. It isn’t, because when you were a child in the back of a car reading a magazine or a book and your parents are going straight, you didn’t get sick. When they went around curves, you got sick. Now, here’s the interesting thing: If it was latency, how do you explain the fact there is no latency in the printed page? It isn’t about latency. It’s about disconnection between two sensor inputs in two places of the brain.
MR. FOWLER: How are businesses using these?
MR. OSTERHOUT: The huge applications that are killers are telemaintenance, telepresence, telerepair. Being able to see anything anywhere and understand what it is.
For example, we were at Pepsi’s headquarters, and Pepsi got a call that their big German facility went down. They have multiple banks of machines, and when one of those machines goes down, it costs $1 million a day.
They had bought glasses, so they told the guys in Germany to turn them on. That allowed Pepsi’s people in the U.S. to see what the engineer in Germany was seeing when he went out on the line to investigate. The guys in the U.S. could say: “What you need to do is reset the breakers. Do this.” They could give instructions because they could see what [the engineer] was seeing halfway around the world in real-time. That’s killer.
MR. FOWLER: And they’re being used in surgery, as well?
MR. OSTERHOUT: All of the major hospitals—Cleveland Clinic. Johns Hopkins, Stanford, UCSF—are asking about them because you can do amazing things with them.
Take lower-back surgery. From the time the patient is prepped, it’s typically a 30- to 45-minute procedure. And whether it’s a herniated disc or something else, you’re bone scraping and resetting the area around the nerves that are emanating from the particular vertebrae in question.
With this technology—and lighting and stereo cameras above—they can go in and do the procedure guided by a computer. They can literally see CT scans and MRIs superimposed. They can cut the procedure time—you won’t believe it, but it’s going to be published—to 30 to 45 seconds from 30 to 45 minutes.