Imagine the apps from your phone floating in front of you, reacting to your gestures as if you were Tom Cruise in Minority Report. You tap the map icon, and a translucent line zigzags through the streets ahead, directing you to your destination. Social media profiles hover above passers-by, and a video screen appears in your peripheral as your friend video calls you—they wish you a happy birthday, and hundreds of virtual balloons appear and lift into the air around you.
Following the 2016 success of Pokemon Go, and the popularity of 3D avatars in smartphone video, Augmented Reality (AR) and Mixed Reality (MR) are driving the development of smart eyewear. AR and MR are two of the three Extended Realities—Virtual Reality replaces our view of reality, AR overlays our view with virtual graphics and information, and MR interweaves the virtual with the real world so they seem as one.
But how will smart eyewear change our lives? Six emerging trends show us what’s ahead.
Rather than offering all AR features, taskspecific eyewear focuses on one activity, from running or cycling or droning. The Raptor, by Everysight, offers video recording as well as personalised displays of maps and stats such as heart rate and speed. The Raptor also makes cycling more socially competitive by sharing stats between cyclists as they ride.
For drone enthusiasts, there's the Moverio BT-300 drone edition, which displays the drone’s footage so you can keep it in sight while you control it with a companion handheld device.
Two U.S. companies are investing in more practical applications for the business sector. With prices at over AUD$3000, their devices are pushing the boundaries of augmented living and working.
Microsoft’s Hololens is heavier than other eyewear with its inbuilt processing power, but the weight is balanced ergonomically, so it's worn like a visor. Magic Leap's wearable MR computer consists of bug-eyed goggles connected by a cord to a power pack worn on your belt, and a hand-control that allows the goggles to track your hand.
Both Magic Leap and Hololens track your head, hand, eye, and position, as well as real-world mapping, to create the most immersive experiences available, like having meetings with 3D avatars of remote participants while they all interact with the same virtual elements floating between them.Google is also still in the game. After public resistance to the 'privacy invasion' of the inbuilt camera in its 2013 Glass eyewear, Google pulled Glass back into development and has since relaunched it as the Glass Enterprise Edition.
With technology shrinking, more apps being developed, and companies like Apple and Facebook developing their own devices, AR/MR enabled smart eyewear could eventually replace smartphones, impacting every aspect of our lives from shopping, dining, traveling, dating, to medical and more. Combined with the development of smart lenses by companies like Mojo, the future of smart eyewear looks bright.
Or does it?
As with any new advancement in consumer technology, the hype and development of AR/MR are outpacing any research into potential effects on the mind or vision from prolonged exposure. When it comes to memories, the brain doesn’t differentiate between the virtual and the real. So, if the end goal for both business and consumer is to make the virtual as real possible, we might find ourselves struggling to discern reality from illusion. And the hyper-personalisation of our world view augmented by uber-realistic filters could exaggerate the tunnel vision and silothinking already exasperated by today's social media.
Will smart eyewear and its extended realities open our eyes to a better world, or will it blind us to the real one? For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.