The Past, Present, And Future Of VR And AR: The Pioneers Speak

Vuzix Corporation M100

The Vuzix M100 are wearable monocular glasses (works with either eye) with a WQVGA colour display (the company literature says the image is the equivalent of a 4-inch smartphone screen held at about a 14-inch distance), 15 degree field of view, running Android ICS on a TI OMAP4460 processor at 1.2 GHz, with 1 GB of RAM, 4 GB of flash, and a micro SD slot for up to 32 GB of storage. The unit contains sensors for gestures, ambient light, GPS, and proximity. Its head tracking includes three degrees of freedom, has a three-axis gyro, accelerometer, and compass. The camera shoots five-megapixel still shots and 1080p video. Audio goes to a single ear, and dual mics let you record audio and provide voice input with noise cancellation. It comes in gray or white and costs $1000.

Dan Cui, Vuzix vice president of business development answered Tom's Hardware's questions.

Vuzix M100 Specs
WQVGA Colour display
Aspect Ratio
Field of View (Diagonal)15 degrees, equivalent to 4 in. mobile device screen seen at 14 in
>2000 nits
EyeLeft or right eye usable
OMAP4460 at 1.2 GHz
Android ICS 4.04, API 15
4 GB flash
External Flash Slot
Micro SD support up to 32 GB
4 control buttons
Remote control app, runs on paired Android device
Supports customizable voice navigation
Supports gesturing
Sensor Systems
3 DOF gesture engine (L/R,U/D,N/F)
Ambient light
Integrated Head Tracker
3-degree of freedom head tracking
3 axis gyro
3 axis accelerometer
3 axis mag/integrated compass
Integrated Battery
550 mAh rechargeable internal battery
Up to 6 hours hands free (display off)
2 hours hands free + display
1 hour hands free + display + camera + high CPU loading
External Battery
3800 mAh rechargeable battery
Ultra-thin USB mini-B cable
Powers & recharges M100
115 x 58.6 x 10 mm
Increases run time up to 6.5 times over base M100
Hands Free
Ear speaker
Noise cancelling microphone
5 megapixel stills
1080p video
16:9 aspect ratio
Mounting Options
Over head
Safety glasses (included)
Use with left or right eye
Micro USB: control/power/upgrade
Wi-Fi 802.11b/g/n
Supported Host Devices Software
iOS (in development)

Tom's Hardware: Is your technology based on AR or VR, and why?

Vuzix: The M100 can do both. Since it is a digitally see-through display, you have the ability to show a completely computer generated image (VR) or superimpose computer data over the real world (AR).

Tom's Hardware: When will we see mass adoption of VR and AR technology (defined as more than one million customers)?

Vuzix: Soon. Analysts say that millions of smart glasses will be sold this year, growing to tens of millions by 2016. The majority of smart glass users in 2014 will be out of the enterprise, industrial and medical sectors, not consumer.

Tom's Hardware: What are the technical hurdles still standing in the way?

Vuzix: Batteries are still a big issue. AR, VR, and streaming video communications require horsepower, which means larger batteries. So there’s a balancing act between batteries embedded in a wearable headset and form and fit of the industrial design.

Optics are another hurdle. Most of today’s products like Google Glass, Oculus Rift, and others use large prism-based “light pipes” to deliver the image to the eye. These system create large industrial designs that make them unusable in most industrial instances, and certainly out of the question for the average consumer.

Tom's Hardware: What are the non-technical hurdles standing in the way?

Vuzix: Individual preferences. Wearable tech needs to address a fundamental human instinct: vanity. Those of us in technology need to understand that and work towards integrating technology with industrial designs that are acceptable to those who wear it.

Tom's Hardware: What steps are needed to remove those hurdles?

Vuzix: On the technology side, while processors are getting smaller, more powerful, and less power hungry, battery technology still has a long way to go. The speed of advancements in processors technology far exceeds that of battery technology. We may end up getting to a point where processors become so small that the majority of the industrial design can be taken up by the batteries that power them. We’re still a long way from that point, so for the foreseeable future, you either have to recharge during the day (for heavy users) or use an external battery to keep you operational all day long. With regards to Optics, we need to develop new see-through technology that has a form factor similar to normal sunglass lenses.

Tom's Hardware: What is your company doing specifically and technically to remove those hurdles?

Vuzix: Battery and processor technology is out of our hands. We can only work closely with the technology companies who design and manufacture those devices to ensure that our needs in the wearable market are addressed.

For Optics, Vuzix has invested millions into the development of a new see-through lens technology. We call this “waveguide” optics. Essentially it allows us to use a 1.4 mm-thin lens as the display, doing away with the expense and bulkiness of conventional prism based systems. Additionally, the work done by Vuzix produces a clear, see-through lens without any distortions in front of the eye, unlike some competing technologies that use “venetian blind” type of reflective elements. These elements slightly distort the image and can also produce eye strain in users.

The Vuzix waveguide optic will also make see-through binocular smart glasses possible (think regular sun glasses). Binocular devices are better suited for AR use and are more likely to be accepted by average consumers over a monocular (one eye) device.

Tom's Hardware: How will VR and AR change the gaming ecosystems in the future (PCs and components, consoles, controllers, and the games themselves)?

Vuzix: Vuzix primarily markets its smart glasses to the industrial sector. As Google is finding out, there is no overriding “killer app” that drives consumers to purchase smart glasses. That is why they are shifting gears and quietly going after the industrial markets. AR has been around for a long time. There are no barriers to entry into this space and you will see a growing number of Oculus Rift type of products appear in the very near future, driving the price of these products lower and lower. That’s great news for the consumer but certainly bad for the companies entering into the space.

AR is a different beast. The game world can be merged with “reality” which is a significant paradigm shift from the virtual world. Game developers have exciting new levels of freedom on how they architect the game stage. Gaming is no longer restricted to a stationary location; it can become mobile, offering many more choices for real time interaction with other players or passive elements (people or things).

Tom's Hardware: How will VR and AR change the world outside of gaming? Give us the most remarkable, life-changing examples you expect to see.

Vuzix: Where can your imagination take you? Imagine walking into a Walmart and having a sales associate be able to answer your questions, tell you where to find the product you’re looking for, how many are in stock and process your order before you get to the front door. How about going to have your blood drawn for a medical test where the lab tech puts on glasses that allows him/her to see exactly where your veins are so they only stick you once with the needle to get the blood?

Smart glasses that enhance your night vision while providing directions as well. Or sports enthusiasts who can see exactly how they’re performing in real time. Plan a new garden layout, put on your glasses, and go outside and plant your flowers according to the plan you outlined with each plant location identified before your eyes. Detect medical conditions on your family just by looking at them: pulse, temperature, respiratory rate, eye dilation, all of which can immediately be forwarded to the doctor. Security at transportation centres and other critical areas; body feature recognition, etc.

The list is unlimited. While many of the applications that drive smart glasses can also be run on smart phones/tablets, walking around holding your phone or table in the air in front of you is not only awkward, but unsafe. Smart Glasses provide a powerful way of viewing AR data in a safe, hands-free manner without drawing undue attention to yourself.

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