FROM IMPOSSIBLE TO INEVITABLE: The Path to an Everyday Augmented Reality via “Light AR”

It takes many years and numerous iterations for the technologies we’ve come to depend on to become commonplace. Yet ideas once deemed impossible - first only imagined in the pages of sci-fi and fantasy stories, illustrated in the pages of comic books - are now becoming increasingly inevitable.

The pace at which we’ve come to expect the ubiquity of new tech has also increased exponentially, so it’s strange when we see a technology on the near horizon that promises to one day alter the entire landscape of our lives, yet despite a sort of constant proximity, that day never seems to arrive. The hurdles faced in terms of being widely adopted in the consumer retail tech sector can be higher for some inventions more than others - this has proven especially true when it comes to a truly integrated and useful augmented reality device.

The Problems with Problem-Solving AR

Early AR or Torture Device?

If you asked consumers a few years ago what the phrase “augmented reality” brought to mind, they might have described virtual reality instead: a person in a clunky headset taking hesitant steps into a computer-generated video game world. A technological marvel? Absolutely. A problem-solving necessity: not so much.

More recently, a consumer might bring up buying a couch, say, and being offered the chance to “see” the piece in their home. An experience that’s a bit more useful, to be sure, if one severely limited in scope.

Virtual, augmented, extended. The more technology becomes a part of our daily lives, the less consumers need to be able to name exactly what the technology is and instead simply answer: what does this do for me? Does it make my life easier, more enjoyable, more productive? Does it help me improve an important aspect of my day-to-day? And if the answers to those questions are affirmative, the next question might be: how easy is it to use? And, of course: how much does it cost?

While price is generally at the top of the list,we know that with truly innovative and useful technology, if the product is “disruptive” – or disruptively useful - enough, consumers will literally lineup to pay. But times have changed since die-hard early adopters camped out to be the first to own an iPhone. Personal or wearable tech has advanced into so many niche offerings that fewer devices are worth lining up for now. Yet even with the number of tech options we have, and even as intuitive as so much of it is to adopt, the dream of a truly integrated, everyday augmented reality use case eludes us.

Why? Why has this unbelievably useful tech been nearly impossible to package for the majority of users? 

First, Keep Your Head Up

The general goal for some time now has been to try to build a heads-up display that doesn’t impair or impede the user in order to offer an augmented reality experience that doesn’t limit movement or experience. It's enhanced reality, not reduced reality. The goal is to give the user a way to benefit from additional spatial, numerical, or other data without having to give up access to some other part of their experience. 

Bottom line issues also include not only costs and quality of experience on the consumer side, but on the development side there are challenges regarding design, the weight of the device, its size, how it’s employed, how it’s powered, how long it can stay powered before needing a charge, whether it’s truly heads-up and hands-free or something more limiting. 

Building a Bridge

The ActiveLook display as rendered in the ENGO Sports Glasses

Since solving all issues at once has till now proven to be impossible, the innovators at MicroOLED, makers of organic LED display technology, devised a solution to reflect their belief that the adoption of AR is, in fact, inevitable by focusing on making the display truly “wearable”. Much like Bluetooth enables communication using waves instead of wires, the ActiveLook technology is a kind of “companion technology” which uses the processing power of smart devices to power a micro-display housed in a pair of sport sunglasses weighing little more than glasses not housing any such tech. Because the display technology is so refined, there’s no need for an external arm or large headpiece to house its elements, thus the designation "Light AR".

Currently, ActiveLook pairs with bike computers, GPS watches, smart phones and other Bluetooth-enabled devices to display the performance data most important to athletes while they train. With the ActiveLook companion mobile app, users can personalize their viewing experience and display bespoke details as well as connect to a growing ecosystem of devices and applications that are compatible with and display the “Works with ActiveLook” badge.

There are many strong and continuing efforts happening to make some future version of everyday AR make sense. With ActiveLook, the future is happening now.


M. M. Maher
April 24, 2023

Other News