Why AR Will Never Go Mainstream Unless The Ergonomics Are Right
Guest writer Clifford Gross, CEO of TekCapital and Lucyd discusses augmented reality's future.
Getting consumers to adopt any innovative technology is an uphill battle in some way, shape or form. And nowhere is this more evident than in Augmented Reality (AR) glasses and headsets. While each year we’re seeing new advances in interface and functionality of AR glasses, there’s one thing that the industry needs to focus on if it ever hopes for AR to go “mainstream” the way smartphones have – that’s ergonomics.
Evidence does point towards AR potentially reaching a tipping point in mass adoption sometime soon. According to Gartner’s hype cycle, AR is projected for substantial growth and adoption over the next two-to-three years. Over the longer term, research firm IDC forecasts that AR headsets could reach up to 25 million units globally by 2021 – but with the majority being for commercial use.
AR technology has the potential to drastically impact the consumer market, becoming a ubiquitous tool to improve the way people live and perform their daily activities. Here’s why the industry needs to nail the ergonomics of glasses and headsets to achieve that goal.
People need comfort for daily use
For AR technology to truly reach critical mass adoption, people need to feel comfortable utilizing glasses daily. It’s one of the crucial challenges that the industry is struggling with today, as the size and weight of current AR glasses are simply not up to the level of comfort that consumers demand for consistent use.
The size, weight, and comfort of AR glasses is extremely important to mainstream users. Market leaders will need to bring AR eye wear formats to market that are small, lightweight, and have minimal optical distortions. As with any new, emerging technology, iterations are constantly being made to enhance comfort for consumers. To reach the level of comfort required for mainstream adoption, AR companies should simply strive to make glasses as similar in size and weight to normal corrective lenses. Reducing and consolidating the amount of hardware required for the glasses to function is one potential way to accomplish this. A classic case of less is more. Fewer technical features encased in a normal pair of eyeglasses, available in a wide variety of frame styles and accommodating to an individual’s exact prescription.
People want AR to feel natural
In addition to the physical fit, size, weight, and comfort of AR headsets, mainstream users need the design and ergonomics to make it feel like the glasses are a natural extension of their body. This means paying attention to design, as well as the interface of the underlying technology and software. AR devices should strive to produce a crystal-clear interface that the wearer barely notices, rather than a clunky or geeky device that they must be mindful of always.
AR headsets will have to “disappear” in a sense, with the user receiving the features and benefits of the tool as an extension of their body. And it’s not like this concept is new in technology. Just look at Black & Decker’s DeWalt Drill or Logitech’s ergonomic mice, which were both designed to make the presence of the device as unnoticeable as possible. In AR’s case, it’s critical that future ergonomic designs seek to transcend a noticeable visual display from the user’s perspective. They should create a window to a world that merges physical and virtual objects, in a way that feels natural and inconspicuous.
People need a wide field of view
Another ergonomic challenge that AR must resolve as a prerequisite to mass market adoption is providing a wide field of view. While current AR headsets are somewhat restrictive when it comes to field of view, future products should strive to reach 114° horizontal field of view to cover binocular vision and enable stereopsis. That’s not only so users can have the normal sight-lines they’re used to, but also so that virtual content can be placed anywhere the wearer looks. Additionally, a wider field of view is probably less likely to contribute to eye strain and headaches as well.
Today’s AR headsets have extremely narrow field of views, ranging anywhere from 20° to 50°. Spatial resolutions are limited, causing blurriness, motion latency, and restricted vision. What AR manufacturers typically struggle with are the trade-offs between resolution, eye box size, and field of view.
Moving forward, AR manufacturers should strive to design headsets in a way that enable a full scope of vision, along with the capability of displaying information across this full field. The industry has been making strides, with Bird Bath optical designs achieving larger fields of vision, upwards of 90° depending on the device. However, this often comes at the price of lower fidelity virtual displays and lessened image sharpness.
Developing ergonomic AR headsets, glasses, and devices it critical for the technology to reach mainstream mass adoption. Lucyd is hard at work trying to address the issues of comfort, ease of use, and field of vision, working with technologies based on a portfolio of patents licensed exclusively from the UCF center for Optics and Photonics. Once the industry cracks the code of taking AR headsets from clunky and geeky, to feeling natural and barely noticeable, only then will it stand a chance at becoming the next ubiquitous piece of consumer technology.