We’ve all been exposed to the power of augmented reality (AR) in our daily lives. Whether it’s through Snapchat and Instagram filters or navigating our way through the streets using Google Maps and Waze. Until recently, our only conception of AR came from Sci-Fi films and books which had all the imaginative possibilities but lacked practical capabilities.
Today companies like Microsoft are already patenting AR concepts that have the power to transform multiple lives and the operation of multiple businesses across all industries. Microsoft is breaking through the AR noise with its latest AR glasses that can “see” objects through fog and dust. At first, this seems incredibly useful for the visually impaired as well as those working through misty and foggy conditions. This futuristic way to walk around during froggy days, holds implications that go way further than that – particularly for the potential of smart eyewear.
Microsoft’s smart AR eyewear will also have additional features like added digital information over famous monuments and real-time image correction – everything we’d expect from the latest generation of AR glasses today. However, the patent’s description of the technology as a “black silicon image sensor” – which can also be used for night-vision technology, is what everyone is interested in for now.
This “black silicon” would, in theory, scan and check for any objects outside the wearer’s eyesight field of vision and pick out any obstacles that are in the way. The AR technology would then fill in the blanks to give the wearer a full picture of what’s ahead of them – whether they can see it themselves or not.
Microsoft’s patent is essentially for AR glasses – meaning, there’s nothing to stop this technology from migrating to other environments. For example, the eyeglasses and prescription lenses market could adopt it to improve the vision capabilities of those with short-sighted vision. In the automotive industry, it could be applied in a heads-up display to warn a driver of any incoming obstructions.
The Implications of Microsoft AR for Smart Eyewear
It’s highly unlikely that this product will be a one-shoot product exclusively for Microsoft in order to compete with the likes of Google Glass. Rather, Microsoft themselves have suggested that they will be taking this technology further and applying it to different use cases. For alternative markets, the strength of this new technology is attracting eyecare services in particular.
One in three people in the UK suffer from shortsightedness (NHS). The condition means that objects in the distance appear blurry and unfocused, whilst those close up are seen perfectly clear. Also known as Myopia, this visual impairment is traditionally treated with eyeglasses and contact lenses that are ‘minus’ or concave in shape. Prescription glasses will have a minus lens power – for example -2.50D. Yet, even these trusted and relatively innovative treatment options don’t come anywhere close to the vision capabilities of Microsoft’s AR glasses technology.
If the technology were to be brought to the designer glasses market, billions of people with shortsighted vision would have access to a device that could both improve their ability to see into the distance and see-through obstructive conditions like fog and mist.
Night Vision Eyeglasses
Should this new technology live up to its promise and provide a way to see through fog and mist via the “black silicon image sensor”, is there anything stopping it from being applied to night vision?
A new technology from Japan’s HOYA released in 2019, aims to help individuals who suffer from night blindness, also known as nyctalopia. By wearing these smart glasses, users with night blindness can see objects in their natural colour, in dark places. They reduce symptoms of tunnel vision and are claimed to be ideal for those diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, Glaucoma and retinopathy.
The device is known as MW10 is a wearable device that displays an image captured by a low-light, high-sensitivity camera, on an organic monitor screen immediately in front of the wearer’s eyes as a bright picture.
The camera lens can display images seen within an approximately 27-degree field of view, and the wide angle camera lens approximately 142-degrees. Meaning, this device supports those who struggle to see in the dark, as well as those who suffer from a visual field constriction.
However, no matter the scope of the field of vision, this technology has no capacity to cut through physical barriers in the same way AR can. HOYA’s camera-centric wearable device largely focuses on the use of light. When combined with the capabilities of augmented reality, their device would reach new heights of potential.
Spotting Objects Through Fog
Should Microsoft deliver on its patented claim to enable people to see through fog, surely this technology should be applied elsewhere. The potential for this technology extends beyond foggy conditions. Microsoft already knows this since it has invested $3 billion in smart cars and deployed its Azure service to power self-driving vehicles.
Since the AR technology is applicable to the small surface area of smart eyeglasses – surely it ranks up in prospect when applied to the entire windscreen of a self-driving car. Even if the technology isn’t used in self-driving cars to help it see in dangerous conditions, this is Microsoft’s way of entering the automobile market to help drivers in dangerous conditions.
What’s abundantly clear, is that the potential for smart eyewear in this space has never been more exciting. Eyeglasses are becoming more and more digitised and are now faced with the prospect of teaming up with augmented reality – to overlay digital information as well as provide the wearer with clearer vision through typically impossible to see-through conditions.
When combined with the prospect of introducing this technology to the workplace, playgrounds and even supermarkets; could X-ray vision become ubiquitous in daily life?