Hinting at an AR future, Microsoft Research squeezes holographic display into regular-sized glasses
In order for AR (augmented reality) glasses to become a mainstream tool, they need to be capable, comfortable and compact enough to be worn on the face while accommodating for the inherent complexities of human vision. According to a new paper and prototype, Microsoft researchers are making important strides in that direction.
A Microsoft team has developed a prototype pair of eyeglasses that allow the wearer to see a full-color, see-through holographic display that adds virtual objects to real world surroundings – in a manner that mitigates several shortcomings in the current technology, such as Microsoft's HoloLens.
For one, the prototype fits an 80° field of view into a pair of roughly normal-sized eyeglasses. Current sunglasses-like devices only offer a narrow field of view (approximately 20° horizontal), which prevents the user front seeing the entire scene at once in a realistic, immersive way.
This is a notable advancement, but even so, the ideal form factor is still out of reach: The prototype only includes a single eye (monoscopic) display with external essential electronics. To be truly wearable and effective, it will require the addition of a stereoscopic display and internalized driving electronics, which are both significant hurdles.
The Microsoft prototype's holographic display also improves on current methods for focus control. Unlike other fixed, vari- and multi-focal options, holograms are able to respond to focal depth on a pixel-by-pixel basis. When combined with advanced eye tracking, this focus control will allow the scene to render the sharpest only where the user is looking. This mimics the way the human eye works, so the scene stays realistically and comfortably in-focus.
The prototype also illustrates how holographic image rendering software has the power to compensate for an individual's vision impairment. After all, if AR glasses are to be worn regularly, they will need to integrate the capabilities of normal vision-correcting glasses as well. In their paper, Microsoft's researchers discuss how software was able to add vision correction for astigmatism in the rendering of holograms, so that individuals with this common type of vision problem to view the display without their prescription eyeglasses.
While these findings don't necessarily indicate the trajectory of any specific Microsoft product, they do provide a snapshot of the latest in near-eye holographic displays for virtual and augmented reality, a technology that many industry experts insist will become a major computing platform in the future.
Learn more about Microsoft's research in the video below.