Since the first virtual fixtures systems were developed by the US Airforce in the 1990’s, augmented reality has gained traction across several industries, and adoption is expected primarily in the gaming and entertainment industries. Companies like Alphabet and Microsoft have tried their hand at augmented reality with offerings like Google Glass and the HoloLens.
The HoloLens was Microsoft’s entry into the world of augmented reality where in late September 2018, it won a $480 Million contract to provide its HoloLens technology to the US military. As part of its augmented reality program, which is called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), the US army plans on using the HoloLens to increase lethality through enhanced detection, decision and engagement abilities. Israel and the US Army have already used these devices during their training ops, but the on-field deployment would be a huge boost for Microsoft’s long-term augmented reality goals.
Microsoft’s new patent provides a new and better-looking augmented reality headset that promises several viable and commercial and military
The abstract of the public patent read as follows: “This disclosure concerns an interactive head-mounted eyepiece with an integrated processor for handling content for display and an integrated image source for introducing the content to an optical assembly through which the user views a surrounding environment and the displayed content, wherein the eyepiece includes event and user action control of external applications.” (Image courtesy of Microsoft.)
This patent clearly shows that the glasses have the same capabilities of a HoloLens, but the differentiation occurs primarily to incorporate the smaller frame design. It is far less bulky and unwieldy than the current HoloLens. In its patent disclosure, Microsoft displayed about 105 possible applications of the glasses including daily tasks like viewing personal emails and answering phone calls. It also included real time enhancements of images and possible real time image and virtual perspective corrections. Another interesting application displayed was a feature that enabled seeing through dust, fog and smoke. Integrating this feature into military applications would mean that soldiers could through smoke screens during combat.
The patent also describes how tourist information could be digitally overlaid onto real world architecture. These could be ideal for travelling and sight-seeing applications. Biometric collection applications and facial and iris recognition applications and network communications applications are also described. These would be used among the hypothetical collective of smaller form-factor HoloLens users.
One interesting application that could be military or civilian was the description of a visual word translator, indicating the possibility of real-time language translation applications in AR. (Image courtesy of Microsoft.)
Overall, this new form factor Microsoft is exploring tackles the main design obstacle to consumer adoption, which is that the current AR headsets are far too unwieldy. Besides that, there are no killer applications that leverage the glasses form factor over the smartphone form factor. Despite receiving criticism from its employees for its intent to bid for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI), a cloud building service for the department of defense, and for assisting in the development of tools facilitating war efforts and enhancing battle capabilities, Microsoft, more than any other company out there, is on track to be at the forefront of AR. Whether mass adoption ever occurs is another story. It's hard to imagine anything replacing the smartphone form factor. The AR headset that comes to the masses would have to derive value from having your hands free, and privacy controls to avoid the unanimously rejected Google Glass form factor.