Monday, February 4, 2013

An i for an Eye

I have been fascinated with the development of augmented reality technology (see, for example, my previous post, The New Hyperreality ), and believe that it will play an increasingly more important role for the future of new media. Here's a video from a news report that I haven't included in any previous post. It's a few years old now, but gets across the basic idea:

And yes, I agree with this report, it seems quite clear to me that hands-free is the most effective mode for using AR, rather than looking through your cell phone's camera, just as we tend to favor bluetooth headphones or ear pieces over holding the phone up to your ear. So this suggests AR goggles will be very big at some point in the near future. Now, here is Nokia's projection of a future development of a hand's free visual display, Nokia future vision:

The eyewear is a substitute for a screen in this instance, as opposed to at true form of AR where the actual world we're looking at is augmented by electronic data. A more complete picture is presented in Google's vision for the future, called Project Glass: One Day...:

And here's the write-up  on it:

We believe technology should work for you — to be there when you need it and get out of your way when you don't.

A team within our Google[x] group started Project Glass to build this kind of technology, one that helps you explore and share your world, putting you back in the moment.

Follow along with us at as we share some of our ideas and stories. We'd love to hear yours, too. What would you like to see from Project Glass?

Now here's one of their follow-up videos, Project Glass: Skydiving Demo at Google I/O 2012:

To be honest, I can't imagine going skydiving myself, and this seems somewhat less ambitious than the previous video, simply a matter of adding a video camera to the glasses to record whatever it is you're looking at. This also seems to be the case for this other video from Google, Glass Session: Madame & Bébé Gayno:

Using the glasses for a live streaming video chat, specifically a Google Hangout, adds something new to the mix, admittedly, and makes sense in this context. But for a regular video call, such as you might do via Skype, I guess you'd have to look in the mirror, a technique used in this next video, DVF [through Glass]:

 You can see that, in this case, the glasses provided raw footage which was later edited. Here's the write-up:

Experience the DVF Spring 2013 show at New York Fashion Week through the eyes of the people who made it happen—the stylists, the models and Diane von Furstenberg herself. All the footage you see here was filmed using only Glass, Google's latest technology that lets you capture moments from a unique, new perspective. See what happens when fashion and technology come together like you've never seen before.

So, yeah, it all seems pretty cool, especially if you want to document your life, an idea that began with written diaries during the print era, became increasingly more visual with the addition of photography, especially as cameras were made increasingly more accessible and portable, and continued with the introduction of home movies, home video cameras, and now blogging, tweeting, social media profiles, status updates, Instagram and the like. So this is just one more step in creating a complete record of everything we say and do, and see.

But this is a far cry for the AR depicted in the first video, and that's because those much more sophisticated Google glasses are just an idea for now, and the video does not depict an actual technology.  But here's one that's much closer to realization, iOptik - a glimpse into the future -vers 1.1:

And here's their write-up:

Innovega's wearable transparent heads-up display, enabled by iOptik contact lens technology, delivers mega-pixel content with a panoramic field-of-view. This high-performance and stylish eyewear is perfectly suited for the enjoyment of immersive personal media. The first part of the video is a CGI compilation provided by CONNECT, San Diego and the second part is actual footage through our system.

One big problem that none of the videos I've included here so far makes clear is that there are limitations to what the human eye can focus on at very close range, so it may not be possible to simply have AR glasses that work in the way depicted. Remember that with AR on mobile devices, the devices are held at a much farther distance from the eye than glasses are.  This is a key point that Evan Ackerman discusses in an article on the DVICE website.  And according to Ackerman,

The way Innovega gets around this problem is by modifying your eyeballs to focus much, much closer. Innovega has developed a special contact lens called iOptik that is completely transparent, except that it can refocus polarized light (like the light from a display) so that you have no problems seeing it. And it's not an either-or thing: with the contact lenses in, the world looks completely normal, except that you can suddenly see a high resolution display that's projected on a pair of glasses, superimposed transparently across up to 120 degrees of your field of view.

Ackerman also notes that while Google glasses have a long way to go, Innovega's innovation may be ready roll out later this year. For a more technical explanation, here's Randall Sprague, CTO of Innovega, in a video called I Can See for Inches and Miles:

As well, this iOptikCameraDemo video provides a somewhat dry, technical, but revealing demonstration of the technology as it interacts with human vision:

What's also quite interesting are the markets listed by Innovega for its optical technology. They include augmented reality, of course, interfacing with mobile devices, and immersive video and 3D gaming, and also simulation and training, which makes sense. What may give some folks pause is that their list of markets also includes "defense and covert operations" and "field operations for warfighters," but if you think about it, this should not be surprising, as all of new media, and communication technologies in general, have military applications. What is quite valuable in human terms, especially given our longer lifespans and aging population, is the market for low vision. This technology will be a great boon for those suffering from Macular degeneration, and similar problems.

One further question comes to mind, from a media ecology angle. McLuhan argues that changing the way we use our senses changes our sensibility, our thought processes, and ultimately our culture and social organization. And recent research backs him up by showing that reading, along with other types of media, actually rewire the brain. So how will this new technology affect our sense ratios, the balance of our senses, and our outlook on the world, individually and collectively? This could be the most radical shift in vision since the introduction of reading itself!

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