What most of us are familiar with is virtual reality. You strap a bulky headset onto your head, most probably connect it to your PC, and you are transported into a completely different world. But what if you wanted to experience another virtual reality without being tethered to your PC and without zoning out completely? This is where augmented reality comes in.
With AR, you are simply adding bits of virtual reality onto the actual reality. Augmented reality devices usually come in the form of smart glasses. Something like Google Glass. You do not have to be connected to a PC to use them and since you are not zoning out completely, you can actually walk around and carry out activities while experiencing two different realities; a virtual one and the actual one.
For example, you can bring up a virtual screen in front of you. You can bring up an image of a flower vase and make it sit on an actual table. You can create holograms that blend in with actual objects around the room. In a decade or so, smart glasses are expected to replace most screened products. It’s hard to think of the beloved iPhone or Samsung Galaxy being defunct, right? But that is the kind of impact being predicted from the growth of augmented reality. The possibilities are astounding.
Augmented reality is expected to have wide and far reaching applications in fields like medicine, retail, engineering and travel.
Now, a look at the top AR glasses for 2016. If you want to take a dip into this novel technology, try out one of these products. If we have left out any notable one, feel free to add it in the comments.
Microsoft is one of the biggest names in augmented reality, thanks to its highly acclaimed HoloLens device. Microsoft is aiming to be the first to make holograms a reality. When they first released thedeveloper edition of HoloLens it was immediately obvious that this was a hugely promising product.
The glasses use holograms to add a layer of virtual reality to your actual field of view. Artists can design virtual objects in 3D as if they were actual physical objects. You could set up the solar system in your living room and explore planet to planet as if they were actually suspended in midair. A recent VR/AR competition handed the first place award to a team that came up with an app that works with HoloLens to project a 3D hologram of the human body.
Medical students can then walk around, as long as they have the glasses on, and inspect every bit of the human body (muscles, bones, heart etc) without having to dissect a cadaver. Being a developer edition, Microsoft HoloLens has many flaws. It is not a consumer product, at least not yet. But the technology is promising and we could see some big improvements in the coming months.
But if you want to play around with it, get ready to shell out $3,000 for a pair of HoloLens glasses.
Magic Leap is a highly secretive startup reported to be developing augmented reality glasses. It works a lot like Microsoft HoloLens but with much more realistic graphics. You can project a mini elephant in front of you and even manipulate it with your hands. You can project a very realistic screen on your office desk and use it instead of your PC.
Many are calling Magic Leap the screen killer. It has the potential to replace computers and Smartphones as well as other screened devices.
There is not much we know about Magic Leap expect that it is developing a one of a kind product. It got over $1.4 billion in venture funding from names like Google, Qualcomm and Alibaba. If such heavy hitters were willing to give that much money, it must be something worth the hype and anticipation.
During the 2016 Rio Olympics, US cyclists secured early access to anew wearable that would help them compete on the track.
The Solos Smart Cycling glasses provided to be hugely beneficial to cyclists at the competition. Solos are smart glasses made specifically for avid cyclists. At first glance, they resemble any other high quality cycling eyewear. But these glasses are one of a kind. The display shows real time activity data, allowing you to keep track of your performance without pausing.
When connected to various sensors, you can see real time data including speed, cadence, heart rate, power zones, distance and elevation. All this information is shown in a 4mm display, the smallest in the world. But with the glasses on, the data is clearly visible. This ensures that you can see your real time data while still getting a clear view of the road ahead.
When released (around October), it will be able to work with other cycling apps including Strava, MapMyRide and TrainingPeaks.
Fitness wearables are all the range right now and Solos could ride its way to the top through its innovative features and convenience. Unlike smartwatches, you do not have to keep glancing at your wrist to see how you are doing.
Vuzix M300 is a successor to the 2013 M100 smart eyeglasses that were developed to compete against Google Glass. Launched at CES 2016, the Vuzix M300 smart glasses come with a better design and improved features.
Though they are not the coolest design statements, the Vuzix M300 eyeglasses deliver some great stuff. Running on Android, the glasses are loaded with a variety of features including Bluetooth, GPS, Wi-Fi and even a camera.
Without touching your phone or computer, you can manage your calendar, create and time events, record videos and snap pictures using the mounted 13MP camera. Specifications include 24 bit color, 2GB RAM, Android 6.0 OS, 64GB internal memory and voice control. The device can connect to both iOS and Android phones.
Vuzix M300 leans heavily towards enterprise users with most of the features targeted towards a business environment. You can preorder right now for $1499, though you will receive the M100. When the M300 begins shipping towards the end of the year, you will be able to swap your M100 for the M300 free of charge.
CastAR is a pair of smart glasses build specifically for gaming. Using the camera mounted onto the framing, the glasses scan the surroundings of the wearer. It then projects virtual images using two mini-projectors located on each frame.
The glasses work with reflective sheets that can be placed on the floor, table or any other surface. A virtual world then comes to life on the surface of the sheet. For example, you can play games like Battleship and Dungeons & Dragons. The best part is that CastAR allows multiplayer modes, whether the opponent is right there in the room with you or miles away.
Early tests and previews predict that CastAR is going to be popular with gamers. It introduces a completely fresh way to enjoy gaming. Instead of controlling the characters on a screen, you can see them run and shoot on your tabletop. It is a really exciting concept that could prove threatening to traditional Play Station and PC gaming. CastAR is currently in development and is expected to start shipping in 2017.
Meta is another AR product seeking to fashion itself after Microsoft HoloLens. Virtual holograms are integrated into actual reality. But these holograms are not there just to be seen; the user can grab them and even move them as if they were real physical objects. In what is now a familiar refrain when to comes to AR glasses, Meta is a potential screen killer.
With the glasses on, you can run your favorite Windows and Mac apps. No need to lug your PC around with you everywhere you go; just put on your glasses and you are good to go. The glasses provide a 90-degree field of view (unlike HoloLens’ 20 degrees), a 720p front mounted camera, audio speakers and an array of sensors.
Meta is designed for professional use by experts like architects and engineers. This is why it even includes an extra long power cable instead of a built-in battery. Using the glasses, professionals can design 3D objects, manipulate them and collaborate with colleagues on these designs.
You can preorder a Meta 2 development kit for $949.
Privacy has always been a touchy issue when it comes to augmented reality glasses. This was one of the biggest contributors to the downfall of Google Glass. It also led to the invention of the derisive term, “Glassholes”.
Laster is aiming to sidestep this issue by excluding a camera in itsSeeThru smart glasses. But in most other ways, it is very much like Google Glass. As you walk around or engage in an activity, the glasses project data on the display right in front of your pupils. For example if you are sightseeing, the display might bring up real time information about what you are seeing.
The glasses are packed with sensors for accurate head movement tracking. This ensures that the augmented reality is overlaid perfectly onto your surroundings. They also contain basic GPS to enable mapping and directions. Instead of looking at your phone, you can see the virtual directions directly in your field of view. Whether Laster SeeThru can succeed where Google Glass failed remains to be seen.
Epson makes various improvements from the BT-200 smart glasses with a lighter and more appealing pair of eyeglasses. The BT-300 glasses come with a more stylish (not so geeky) look, lighter feel and added features.
Using an OLED display, the glasses project virtual images in more color and vibrancy. This helps enhance the realism of virtual images integrated into your surroundings. In addition, there is a 5MP camera mounted at the front. The Android-based smart eyeglasses are made with experts and professionals in mind, though there are quite a few features that would appeal to the ordinary consumer.
No price has been announced yet but considering that the BT-200 costs $700, we expect a higher price tag.
This is another AR wearable designed specifically for cyclists. Like Solos, discussed further above, the main aim of the glasses is to deliver real time data directly to the rider’s eyes. Instead of glancing down on your phone or smartwatch, you get the information directly in front of your eyes without taking your view off the road.
These glasses come equipped with a GPS sensor, thermometer, altimeter, accelerometer and other sensors to collect as much data as possible. You can get various types of data including distance, speed, elevation, cadence and duration. Recon Jet glasses are available now in various styles and varieties.
The basic model costs $499 but you can get a bundled pack (with extra lens and battery) for $599.
Augmented reality is a relatively young industry but we are already seeing some great products. Great as they are, however, it is clear they have a long way to go. There is so much potential that AR glasses are yet to explore. Most of the products we have mentioned above come with a long list of flaws and limitations.
As the industry grows and development picks up pace, we are likely to see better products with a bigger impact on how we live and work. Which of the above products shows the greatest promise? Leave your comments below.