Here, we examine the two front-runners in the race to bring us the perfect AR device.
As the AR market coalesces from the wreckage of “Google Glass” and the less-than-stellar launch of commercial VR headsets, two companies are entering the battle for the top spot in an as-yet-untapped market: the AR headset.
Augmented Reality struggles to find a working definition in the eyes of the common consumer, and that definition will be elusive until a big company finds big success with a hugely successful AR interface, something that is commonly understood as a headset.Between Magic Leap and Avegant, one of these mixed realities will pan outClick To Tweet
Furthermore, the tech giants have failed us, making it hard to truly define the appeal of AR technology. The best examples of this lie within the hallowed halls of Google and Microsoft, where the Glass and the HoloLens, respectively, have failed to reach the level of refinement that make them the default for those who want to enhance their lives with AR tech.
I think that this shows a sad truth about the state of AR. Not that it has any lack of potential, but that its potential is being wasted by making what could be an entire field of technology into a niche market.
For Avegant and Magic Leap, this isn’t necessarily a bad state of affairs.
After all, in the not-quite-burgeoning field of AR, these two companies are entering a fight that is not only for market dominance but also for the right to truly define how people see AR headsets. For a small company that wants to compete with the efforts of tech giants like Microsoft or Google, an undefined playing field gives them a distinct advantage that may allow them to corner the AR market ahead of their bigger and more widely known counterparts. All they have to do is perfect the tech, and you better believe that the two companies are in a race to do just that.
Avegant Illuminates the Field of AR With Light-Field Technology
Let’s start with Avegant and their Light Field technology.
Avegant may claim that their augmented reality is actually ‘mixed reality,’ but the end result is exactly what we look for in an AR headset, namely the ability to superimpose virtual images onto the visual spectrum of reality.
A light field display is interesting because it shows an image in 3D that can be cast out of focus when you train your eyes on something else. For the uninitiated, that doesn’t sound like such a monumental feat, but for display experts, it is an amazing leap in display technology. To put it into perspective, consider that the ability to render in detail only what the user is focused on allows the headset to only use its power on the focused image, allowing it to put more unfocused upon images within the viewing field.
What’s more, while the prototype headset may look like a pair of welding goggles, they incorporate a design referred to as a ‘birdbath’ optics system, and while I can’t explain to you exactly what goes into a birdbath system, I can tell you that it is far cheaper than the waveguide system present in the HoloLens, and that means that mass production is far more practical with Avegant’s headset.
Still, the headset is far from the commercial phase, and if they cannot make the unit viable soon they could lose any chance they have at gaining enough momentum to dominate the AR market. Microsoft and Google may not have wildly successful products, but they have distributed their developer kits, and that means that it is only a matter of time before they perfect their tech and the window of opportunity is closed. If Avegant wants to succeed, then they need to step up their production speed.
Despite only raising $37 million USD in funding, compared with Magic Leaps $1.4 billion USD from Google and Alibaba, if Avegant wants to succeed, then they need to step up their production speed.
Magic Leap Raises the Stakes With Their Own HoloLens
Our next contestant is Magic Leap, who has created a lens that looks a lot like Microsoft’s HoloLens, but boasts visual quality that Wired claims “exceeds all others.” That’s quite an endorsement, but if the demonstration videos are to be believed then they may have a point.
According to Magic Leap’s CEO Rony Abovitz, their proprietary lightfield chip is a “three-dimensional wave [component] that has very small structures in it, and they manage the flow of photons that ultimately create a digital lightfield signal.”
If that sounds confusing to you, then you aren’t alone. Magic Leap is impressively tight-lipped as to how its technology actually works, but for those who have been privileged enough to test out the tech, the tech not only works, but it also amazes.
While I couldn’t find any news of a development kit for Avegant’s tech, my research into Magic Leap told a different story. Dev kits were slated for release in the fall of ’16, according to a report from Wired. That being said, these kits were announced as far back as June of 2015, so I wouldn’t exactly hold my breath waiting for a report stating that developers have started making software for the lightfield chip.
But what about Microsoft and Google?
While the thought of someone slipping out from under the hegemony of the tech giants of the world is tantalizing, let us all remember that investment is what drives Industry 4.0, and neither of these companies has got to where they are without sizeable investments from the likes of Microsoft and Google.
For all we know, headsets will be produced by the bigger companies while the tech that powers it is bought outright from the small companies that developed it, and honestly, that wouldn’t be the worst state of affairs. At the end of the day, I just want the tech, and while I hope that the inventor is treated well, it probably won’t affect common consumers like me either way.
A shallow search shows that Magic Leap has received $592 million USD from Google and Qualcomm, while Avegant can boast (much smaller) support from Intel. While this doesn’t mean that those larger companies will outright own the rights to the tech, it does mean that they have their tendrils dug into its development, so it is perfectly reasonable to expect to see a Google or Intel product with Avegant or Magic Leap’s tech within it.
So, that leaves us with the question of who will win the race, and at this time it is too soon to tell.
But hey, if you have some information that we don’t, let us know.