So, Who Is The Video See-Through AR Leader?
If you are interested in finding out who the industry leader is in providing components and reference designs for head worn Video See-Through AR, please take a look at my research for investors page where you will find links to detailed information about Kopin Corp. Kopin has created a series of reference designs for head worn Video See-Through devices called Golden-i. Both Fujitsu and Motorola Solutions have chosen the Golden-i design for their own enterprise devices. Kopin also provides displays and other components for head worn wearables such as Recon's Jet device. Vuzix also uses Kopin's display for their new M300 device. Both are examples of enterprise devices using the Video See-Through AR architecture that are quickly gaining traction. More recently, RealWear Inc. has launched the HMT-1 which is the latest version of Kopin's Golden-i platform and demonstrates a truly viable video see-through AR device.
Thanks to all who have freely shared their knowledge about AR in published papers, interviews, videos, and panel discussions across the internet.
Above all though, I must credit much of what I have learned about the advantages and disadvantages of AR architectures to available published work by industry veteran Jeff Jacobsen of Kopin. Mr. Jacobsen is a visionary who saw the promise of head worn wearables decades ago and has tirelessly stewarded the development of the Golden-i platform to a position of dominance in the head worn wearables industry.
If you are able to, I strongly encourage that you get a copy of Jeff Jacobsen's paper entitled "Deploying Augmented Reality and Hands-Free Mobile Computing" prior to making any investment decisions in the AR field.
Augmented Reality Comparison - Enterprise
There is little doubt that enterprise applications for head worn Augmented Reality devices represent a massive market opportunity. The use cases are virtually endless as AR headsets can potentially free workers hands to complete their work more safely and accurately resulting in cost savings for enterprises of all sizes. Many organizations are already experiencing improved efficiency with tablet and smartphone based AR systems. However, AR on these devices does not provide the full safety and efficiency gains that AR on head worn devices will.
There is plenty of hype around AR right now with a number vendors large and small promising what appear to be Iron Man like AR capabilities in the near future. While full field-of-view AR overlays look great in the movies, what will businesses choose to implement near term and what does the enterprise head worn AR adoption curve look like? What follows are opinions I have formed as a result of extensive review of available materials related to enterprise AR use cases.
There are really two categories of AR that you will see being marketed today: Optical See-Through AR and Video See-Through AR. The concept behind both is that you can digitally superimpose relevant data or imagery on top of the real world.
Optical See-Through AR
This approach intends to cover as much as your field of view as possible to provide an immersive AR experience where the real and digital worlds become one. In order to accomplish this, the device may use waveguide optics or beam splitter/combiner optics which the user literally looks through to create a composite image of the "real world" and digital content provided by a display source. Notable examples are Microsoft's Hololens, ODG's devices and the soon to be released M3000 from Vuzix. As well, Google Glass is part of this category although its design is meant to float above your line of site, so is not a true AR overlay experience such as what Hololens is attempting to provide. In its most mature form, the Optical See-Through AR method could eventually provide an Iron Man-like experience with relevant information literally floating over the real world and changing based on context and user input.
Video See-Through AR
This approach does not attempt to provide a transparent overlay on most or all of your field of view. Rather, a slim boom with optical pod floats the display above or below the eye several centimetres away. The idea is to provide an opaque screen above or below your line of sight with optics that comfortably provide an equivalent virtual screen size of 4" to 15". This display resides in your natural peripheral vision area and you reference it as needed. The display is a composite image of a live video signal (the "real world") and AR overlay information. In enterprise use cases, you would see the equivalent of a 15" laptop screen just above or below your eye containing the video view of the real world combined with AR overlay data.
The "Best" Enterprise AR Approach?
Well, obviously we want the Tony Stark/Iron Man experience right? Not so fast! Which approach actually serves the needs of enterprise users? Let's consider an enterprise user's requirements for a hands-free head worn AR device:
I have created a couple of graphics to help you visualize one of the key advantages of the Video See-Through AR approach:
As a result of the fact that the Video See-Through AR approach provides a display occupying only a small part of your field of view, it is a much safer AR architecture for workers and enterprise users as most of their vision remains unobstructed. In addition to this key safety factor, this approach also offers:
My View Of How Enterprise AR Will Evolve
As a result of all of the research I have done, I now believe Optical See-Through AR needs much more development before it will become a viable option for the enterprise. Advances in optics and computing power are needed to address the safety and user issues identified above. Conversley, Video-See Through AR is mature and ready for adoption within the next 12 months. Pilot programs employing Video See-Through AR devices are already delivering positive ROI in the enterprise. Starting next year, I expect rollouts across many companies with shipment ramping rapidly to 10M units by 2020.
In essence, this is how I see enterprise AR adoption evolving near term: