Dreams of the future in 3D

Article of 25 October 2017 


You wear glasses so you can see better. You wear augmented-reality glasses so you can see more. These new spectacles enhance the surroundings with computer-aided information. Technologies with augmented reality (AR) make it possible to look at everyday situations as well as the working world of the future in a different way.

AR glasses feed computer-aided data directly into the wearer’s field of vision. In this way, wearers of AR glasses receive additional information in real time – for example operating notes or repair instructions are drawn into the user’s field of vision by a member of customer service staff. In doing so, the area shown is laid over the wearer’s view of the world right in front of their eyes. But augmented reality won’t only be a feature of AR glasses – smartphones will also be able to supplement real-time recordings of the camera with information.

Users of the Microsoft HoloLens AR glasses can, for example, move freely around the room while making a video call. The video of the person they’re talking to accompanies them across walls, furniture and windows while they walk around. Hand motions can be used to pin shared desktop windows to certain walls. The windows adjust their size according to the surface. It is obvious that this technology makes significant demands of the sensors. For AR glasses, optical camera sensors scan the surfaces and work together with non-optical sensors that determine rotation, acceleration or GPS data.

Sensors and display – interplay in real time

The display is the centrepiece of AR glasses. Unlike with a computer or smartphone, a special system is required to analyse the relationship between the eyes of the user, the surroundings and the display in real time. After all, virtual objects have to fit in terms of shape and location with items and surfaces in the real world, or at least orientate themselves based on them. The tracking system determines the precise position of the glasses. Sensors recognise even the tiniest of movements and adjust the display in real time. This is the only way that virtual objects can be updated if the system user moves their head. A comfortable AR experience is largely dependent upon the virtual and real worlds overlapping precisely and in real time.

Making data available across systems

The greatest area of potential for AR glasses is in digitisation and networking. To date, the HoloLens from Microsoft can represent applications and 3D objects in the room. The next goal of AR developers is to link different software systems with each other and to make data available across different systems, which would allow wearers of AR glasses, for example, to receive information on the bus schedule by looking at a bus driving by or at the bus stop sign.

Added value for industry

For the world of work, the new technology offers many conceivable – and until now only conceivable – possibilities. For example, the shift manager on a given day could use AR glasses to look around a machine shop and receive real-time data about the machines in their field of view. The glasses then give the engineer a glimpse of the most relevant information and immediately send them a message if a machine reports a malfunction. The engineer could use the software interface in the glasses to get the machine up and running again. These are dreams of the future at the moment, but they could soon become reality.

We’ll see what the future holds – perhaps as an overlay in a pair of AR glasses.