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See-Through HMD for Consumers Further Off Than Expected

Note: When you’re done reading this, please see my followup post.

Today we have received confirmation from Vuzix CEO Paul Travers that the highly anticipated Vuzix Wrap 920, previously known as the AV920 Wrap, will not, in fact, be a see-through head-mounted display (HMD). It will instead be a “see-around” model. This means that the LCD viewing elements will be opaque, as in previous models, but will be suspended behind a sunglasses-style lens without obstructing the peripheral view around the display. In previous HMD devices this wasn’t generally the case because one doesn’t view the LCD panel and light source directly as one does a typical computer or television monitor. Put simply, an HMD requires focal optics so that your eyes can focus on something so close without giving you a headache.

(See this previous post where I reported on being told by Robert Rice, and then Vuzix, that the AV920 Wrap would, in fact, be a true optical see-through HMD.)

Presumably Vuzix will still be offering a stereo pair camera accessory for the Wrap 920, as was supposed to be produced for the original AV920 Wrap, but it’s hard to know what to expect at this point.

So while this does represent an incremental step forward in Vuzix’s offerings, it isn’t the one we were promised. More importantly, it isn’t the one we’ve all been waiting for.

I am, of course, disappointed by this news. After Lumus Optical went back to the drawing board, as they told Ori Inbar they had done in this interview on his his blog, Vuzix was the only company still promising a see-through head-mounted display for consumers any time soon.

Now? Well, we’re left waiting for:

  1. Somebody to get serious and invest some real VC money in Lumus
  2. Sony to produce something using using their holographic waveguide technology
  3. Konica Minolta to further develop their Holographic Optical Element technology
  4. Microvision to show that they’re serious by showing something other than a Photoshopped concept illustration (Microvision has been subcontracted to develop a new see-through HMD for the military under the ULTRA-Vis program, but who knows when that might lead to development of a civilian device)
  5. something unexpected to show up.

I had been hoping to be able to use a see-through HMD in the ISMAR demo presentation on which I’m working with Seac02 using their awesome LinceoVR software. It looks like we’ll have to make do with the conventional HMDs already at our disposal.

Maybe we’ll still see released products using Vuzix’s touted “Quantum Optics” before we get our quantum computers.

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  • Robert Rice

    Wow, this is a serious “fail” for Vuzix. The wearable displays I had in my hand and tested at CES earlier this year were indeed using transparent lenses. I can only speculate why Vuzix is dropping this. It is quite perplexing though, Augmented Reality is clearly one of the major buzzwords of 2009 and a rapidly emerging industry that will only realize its full potential when it is mobile and transparent wearable displays are commercially accessible.

    Microvision has failed to do anything much other than talk about it and nod in the general direction of what they *could* do or *plan* to do. I don’t consider them a contender any more and now I am completely marking Vuzix off of my list.

    I’d bet on Lumus though. There are still some challenges, but their tech appears to be going in the right direction, and their CEO Zvi Lapidot seems to be much smarter and more sophisticated than others in the sector that I have talked to.

    I’m curious to know if there are any other significant players in the sector that have been staying under the radar. If you are out there, I want to talk, and real soon.

    • Joe Ludwig

      The Wrap prototype that I had in my hands at my house in May also had a see-through display. This is really surprising. I couldn’t really test them out with any content I had control over, but you could definitely see the world through the blue test screen.

      I wonder what happened. Did Paul say anything about why?

      • bzerk

        His exact words by way of explanation were: “a pile of reasons”

        As for specifics… well, I can’t surmise.

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  • Moombe

    How deceiving. I was really looking forward to these, coupled with a jailbroken iPhone (which allows then to output even application’s video, not only movies). This would have given a nice kick to AR industry.

    I’d really like to understand why lies behind “a pile of reasons”, especially when earlier testers have had real see-thru models. Shortage of supply ? Too fragile ? Military conspiration ?

    • Joe Ludwig

      If Paul or the other Vuzix guys shows up at ISMAR we’ll have to ask them. 🙂

      • bzerk

        It’s hard to imagine that they won’t. They’re a major donor to the conference, after all.

  • Karan Checker

    Well Apple just filed for a patent in personal display technology a few days back. So you have something coming from that side.

    Also, Optinvent, the French startup, kinda-sorta is working on an augmented reality product.

    I would say this is going to be a game changing technology and I am sure the present display industry doesn’t like it one bit. I’m sure they must be putting in money/efforts to stifle progress in this field or investing to develop the same themselves. Either way, the industry is not ready for this shift, even if the consumers are. Just my opinion.

    • bzerk

      I wasn’t aware of a recent Apple patent filing pertaining to an HMD. Could you please share a link? I knew of this one, made public in the media last year.

      Actually, never mind. A quick google search brought me to an article indicating that that patent has just been granted. I assume that it is that to which you were referring.

      Their approach to the optics looks like a less elegant variation on the Lumus design, which guides the image in segments, allowing them to use separate prismatic columns embedded within and across the lenses. (At least that’s my limited understanding of it.) The only real difference in principle that I can see besides that is the use of decoupled lasers which are then redirected using a bridge-mounted imaging device to generate the image. Presumably, The Lumus approach could accommodate that as well, but I don’t know enough about the intricacies of optics to say so with any authority.

  • bzerk

    Hey everyone. I just had a great conversation with Paul Travers. Check out my followup post. I know this is still a disappointment, but things aren’t quite so dire.

  • Chris Grayson

    I covered some of this territory in a recent article, “Eye for an iPhone”, and I now must write a follow-up. I will link to this article. Nice to get new information (even if it’s disappointing information).

  • Robert Rice

    Apple can stuff it.

    Anyway, I met with Paul Travers at ISMAR 09 and I think they are getting back on track. I’d like to withdraw my previous comments about a big fail here.

    I’m giving Vuzix a tentative thumbsup.

    • Joe Ludwig

      Same here. I feel much better about what the next two years will hold for HMDs. The companies that are charging academics five and six figures for crappy displays are going to get a serious wake-up call.

      I just wish it were happening NOW NOW NOW.