Hands-on with Mini's new AR goggles

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Mini's new glasses offer some of the same functionality as a heads-up display (Photo: Emily Price/Gizmag.com)

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Given that both heads up displays for our cars and smart glasses are emerging (if still niche) product categories, it’s not surprising that a company would try to combine the two into a single product. Earlier this week we had the opportunity to try out Mini’s new Augmented Vision, a set of driving goggles that brings some of the features of your standard heads-up display to a set of glasses, making for an interesting look at the future of both connected eyewear and connected vehicles.

For now, Mini’s Augmented Vision googles are just a prototype, however the company plans to eventually bring something like what they’re showing off now to market. In their current form, the glasses are huge, and putting them on is a little more complicated than just putting them on your face. These specs actually have instructions:

Once you get them on, you have to go through a bit of a calibration process, matching the output on the display with your own vision. For the purposes of the demo, that calibration was done by closing one eye, and then the other and matching a box on the projected display with one that was on a poster hanging on the wall.

Setup took around three minutes, and afterwards all of the content from the glasses was displayed directly in front of me in my field of view. If you’ve tried out something like Google Glass before, then it’s a bit of a different experience. Content is physically in front of you comparable to a heads up display in your car, so you don’t have to change your focus in order to read what’s being projected (on Glass, the content hovers above and to the right of your field of vision).

Once I had the glasses on, the gentleman helping with the demo showed me several posters on the wall. While looking at them, information popped up on the display about the event and its location. By tapping on a button on the top of the glasses we were able to select a particular event from its poster and have directions beamed to the glasses on how to get there. Directions include not only turn-by-turn driving directions, but walking details as well.

Here's Mini's mockup of what that looks like:

Inside the car, I connected the glasses to the Mini and took off on my virtual journey (the car was stationary and the road was projected in front of me). As I drove, arrows were projected on the road telling me where to turn, and my speed along with the posted speed limit was constantly displayed at the bottom of my field of view. As I drove past individual sites, they were pointed out on the glasses, as was a parking space when I finally arrived at the destination. A text message came in from a friend and I was able to see that it arrived and have it read to me from the glasses.

For the most part, it was everything you might expect from your standard heads-up display, except on a set of glasses. The goggles take things a step further, though, with an X-ray view. Using cameras mounted on the outside of the vehicle, I was able to see a basketball dropped by a pedestrian through the passenger side door. It’s a pretty cool trick, but one that we think would definitely take some getting used to.

We did notice that the prototype ran pretty hot. After 15 minutes of use I was a bit concerned with how warm the model I was wearing had gotten. After a few hours in the car these could very well be unwearable.

For now, Mini’s googles are a bit more information than we would want in our field of view while driving. Sure, all that information is handy, but for us it was just a little too much. Yes, seeing through the passenger side door is cool, but while driving? It might be a little too much stimulation. We can see all the bells and whistles becoming more of a distraction than a safety feature.

That said, they’re an exciting glimpse of a potential future, and perhaps something we’d become accustomed to over time. Could connected glassware be the future of car tech? Maybe. If nothing else, Mini has a interesting idea in the works. Here's a video look at what the company expects the experience to ultimately be like.

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