Something on your face (the head-mounted display).
Mounting a screen in front of your eyes allows you to augment reality while keeping your hands free. Google did this in 2013 when they released Glass, but it wasn’t true AR in the sense that we think of it today. Glass presented digital information on a flat display in front of one eye instead of as 3D imagery presented binocularly as part of the environment. Google still sells Glass in an Enterprise Edition for use in manufacturing, health care, and other industries. Without interrupting their workflow, Glass wearers can access manuals, training videos, design specifications, and specially developed apps.
The Microsoft Hololens and the Magic Leap One are the most well-known AR headsets for gaming and entertainment. These headsets are getting better at blending the real-world environment with digital content. “When you wear the Magic Leap, it does a scan of the room and actually builds — in close to real-time — a rough model of the room,” says Seth Chaffee, Head of Immersive Production at AR/VR production company Giant Astronaut. “So when you start placing objects in your environment, it’s easier to map that experience into real-world space.” The more these headsets can integrate with the environment, including the sonic environment (so you hear sounds coming from particular points in space), the more real the experience will feel.
Some developers envision a world in which we’re all wearing smart glasses or contact lenses all the time, but we’re not there yet. Current AR glasses tend to be bulky, with a limited battery life. Worse, the wearer’s field of view is narrowed, limiting situational awareness in a way that may be dangerous.
Also, trying to make sense of 3D models overlaying your real-world vision can be exhausting. It takes fighter pilots six weeks of near-constant training to learn how to use their heads-up displays without being distracted by the overlays. “Other than the targeting reticle, they pretty much use AR only at night in order to see the landscape,” says Alex Kauffmann, Project Lead at Google’s Advanced Technologies and Projects. “When there are other things to see, overlays can distract you from what you need to be paying attention to, like other airplanes or a missile coming at you.”
There’s also the question of whether or not people want to wear AR glasses as a part of everyday life. “I don’t want to live in a world where my reality is mediated in that way,” Kauffmann says. A few bar owners in San Francisco don’t want their patrons to live in that world either, banning Glass wearers (“Glassholes”) to prevent recording by their video cameras.