Augmented Reality becomes Real

Augmented Reality becomes Real

Will augmented reality devices prove themselves useful? So many big cool ideas in technology show some initial promise and either die or are adopted years later in some unique way. Consider the graphical interface, mouse and one handed keyboard invented by Douglas Engelbart in 1967.

First Mouse 1967 Douglas Engelbart

In this “Mother of All Demos“ he showed pieces of a future (graphical interface, mouse, hypertext, cut and paste) that was accessible to most people starting on January 24, 1984 with the Macintosh. It took 17 years for the ideas to be released as a commercial product.

Today advancements in human computer interaction continue to be invented. Perhaps it will take 17 years for them to be perfected. Today we happen to call these devices Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality devices but they are much like Engelbart’s mouse in his day, a crude wooden box with wheels.

I still hold out hope for the five finger keyboard, imagine one hand on the keyboard and one hand on the mouse. But even in Doug’s demo he continues to use a standard keyboard. But the keyset as he called it is one item that did not catch on.

Doug using keyset with 3-button mouse (1968)

Augmented (AR) and Virtual reality (VR) are somewhat similar and a few current devices on the market and under development are capable of both. Augmented reality places computer graphics in front of what the eye sees, whereas; virtual reality devices replaces everything the eye sees with computer graphics. Although with a camera a VR device could display reality with computer graphics interleaved.

Perhaps Doug Engelbart demonstrated one of the first augmented reality devices in his demo in 1968 when he projected himself onto a large screen displaying his actions editing text with the first mouse.

There are many devices in the works and out on the market. Each have various methods of displaying information and providing the wearer with input devices. Some track head or eye movements while others rely on voice or touch commands.

Today we are interested in investigating augmented reality devices.

Options in AR

Google Glass

Google Glass

Atheer Air

Air Glasses

  • 50° field of view
  • Processor via cable to Android device
  • WiFi, LTE, GPS
  • $3,950
  • Release Q1 2016
  • Allows for wide coverage of vision area. Holographic overlays.
  • Two eye display
  • Gesture interaction

Epson Moverio BT-200 smart glasses

Moverio BT-200

  • 23° field of view
  • $699
  • dual screen 3D
  • WiFi, bluetooth, GPS
  • Processor via cable (Android Device)
  • Touch input on attached controller


  • $499
  • Informational display only
  • Bluetooth to smartphone
  • Uses GPS on smartphone

Innovega iOptik

iOptik magnifying lens

  • Licensing to vendors, no consumer device
  • Still in development
  • Uses a contact lens and glasses. Contact lens magnifies small image on glasses but allows for normal distance viewing.
  • 60° field of view

LaForge Optical Acis

LaForge Drive Mode

  • $590
  • Onboard processor. Connects to smartphone via bluetooth
  • Heads up display device to augment smartphone
  • Touchpad input
  • Camera, microphone, speaker.
  • Single eye display



  • $667 for developer version, $3,000+ for pro version
  • 35° field of view
  • 3D holographic display / 2 eye display
  • gestural control
  • Relies on external processing.

Recon Instruments

Recon Jet

  • Sports heads up display
  • Onboard processor
  • WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS
  • One eye display
  • $499


CastAR Protype

  • $200 Kickstarter (campaign canceled due to investor interest)
  • 1280 x 720 resolution per eye at 120 hertz
  • two eye display, 3D
  • 65° field of view
  • Connects to computer via usb/hdmi
  • Uses a reflective background surface which reflects the images from the projectors on the glasses back to the eyes making it more of a Virtual Reality system.

Microsoft Hololens

Microsoft Hololens

HTC Vive

HTC’s former executive director of marketing Jeff Gattis wearing a Vive

  • A virtual reality system with one key feature that adds in augmented reality. It has a front camera.
  • Front camera can be programmed to display real world mixed with virtual elements. Or just display when there is a wall in the way.
  • Wand controllers
  • 12o° field of view
  • 90 frames per second
  • 70 sensors, laser positioning
  • external laser lighthouse can map entire room


I am most interested in the devices that support holographic 3D display with gesture control as I want to work with analytical data visualization. For our purposes the Hololens, Meta, Atheer Air show the most promise. The limited field of view of the Epson limits its potential. The CastAR may turn out to be a good option despite the need for the reflective surface. The cost is reasonable and for our application the tool will be used in an office setting anyway.


I have seen technologies for analytical data display come and go. I remember large table-top touch screens which were just encumbering devices for viewing data. So much time went into preparing the data to be visualized that a data analyst had already figured out the answer without putting it on the table. Perhaps it will be the same with these devices. I think much of their success will depend on perfecting the human interaction lag time and finding the perfect problems it is a useful tool for.


After looking at the possibilities and usages of these systems, I would only use them for narrow applications. I am not sure having something like this beaming information into my eyes all day would be a benefit. The human brain needs time to absorb things slowly and meditate on what is happening . I value either being present and aware of surroundings or being inside my head daydreaming or concentrating on a difficult problem. I fear more information could lead to less meaning. There will need to be a way to filter information being presented that is based on personal choices and not driven by outside influences.

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