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This Prototype Holographic Heads-Up Display Is What Google Glass Should've Been

This headset enables holographic images to be displayed in front of the wearer's field of vision in full colour.

by Emiko Jozuka
Jul 1 2015, 2:00pm

The headset. Image: National Physical Laboratory

Google Glass may be dead for the moment, but researchers from the UK's National Physical Laboratory and manufacturer Colour Holographic, say they've developed an alternative device that could that would let people see holographic digital images in front of them.

The tech—which could be clipped onto one side of a wearer's glasses—is still at the prototype stage, but the researchers want it to be used by everyone from people with bad vision, surgeons, and firefighters needing infrared vision to navigate through hazardous environments in the future.

"Normally when we want to see things from our phones or our computers, we need a screen to look at. But this way, we could do away with a screen and just have the image projected directly into our glasses and into our eye," John Nunn, a research scientist from the NPL, told me at the Royal Society's Summer Exhibition.

The optical technology they've developed is based on holography that allows images and video to be displayed in front of the wearer in full colour. But wearers don't need to look up at an image as with Glass, or don a headset that blocks out the real world as with virtual reality, as the device overlays transparent digital images on top of your normal sight.

"[With this headset], you can see the real world at the same time so you don't lose your vision by getting additional info," Manuel Ulibarrena, R&D manager at Colour Holographic, said. "If you're walking down the street, instead of looking at your mobile you can see a transparent map of where you are going with arrows and directions showing you where you want to go."

Ulibarrena said this approach was similar to Google Glass, but that the main problem with Glass had been its short battery life, and the uncomfortable positioning of the images, which made wearers look up. "The Google Glass also came too early, but they created awareness about what you could get," he added.

The headset is made up of a micro-display, lens, glass plate, and holographic glass splitters inside each end of the glass plate. The device is roughly 10 cm long, 3 cm wide and 2.88 mm thick. In a YouTube video, Simon Hall, from the National Physical Laboratory, describes how once a wearer puts the glass contraption over their eye, a hologram inside the device bends the red, green and blue components of light by 90 degrees so that the light reflects internally inside the glass and travels over a wearer's eye. A second hologram then bends the light so that it is visible to the eye.

"We've all seen Tony Stark's view of the world when he wears his Iron Man suit."

"Say you have people with problems with their eyesight who can see colours and shapes, but who can't see edges very clearly. You could incorporate a camera on top of their glasses that scans the area ahead, finds the sharp edges then projects them through the glasses with red lines, so that the user is aware of any obstacles ahead," Nunn said.

The tech could, for example, be used by a surgeon in need of advice. "A surgeon who needs a second opinion about the operation he's doing from a colleague across the Atlantic could use this optical technology in an augmented reality headset to receive guidance in real time, without looking away," Hall explained in a press statement. Imagine, for example, a surgeon showing images of a similar procedure to another performing the operation in real time.

"We've all seen Tony Stark's view of the world when he wears his Iron Man suit—information about his world being projected in his line of sight," he said. "Now we'll be able to experience it for ourselves."