Much has been said over the past decade about the potential for growth and virtual reality transform the work environment, especially in an industrial context.
Despite the efforts of companies like Microsoft and Magic Leap, this grand vision has yet to come to fruition. However, the conversation around extended reality (XR) has become increasingly energetic since the metaverse has entered the public consciousness, and there are signs that we may be on the cusp of change.
To see what it’s all about, I got my hands on a pair of sports glasses from a company called Engo, which uses ActiveLook AR technology to project information into the periphery of the wearer’s vision.
Although the glasses are neither as powerful nor as feature-rich as mainstream enterprise headsets, the basic premise is largely the same. And they taught me more than I expected about the future of work.
The simple purpose of Engo eyewear is to improve the safety of runners and cyclists by eliminating the need to look at a sports watch or main unit see activity data, which means more time spent with your eyes on the road.
Specific data projected into the lens of Engo goggles can be configured by the user, but includes real-time speed, distance traveled, elapsed time, elevation gained, etc. By waving in front of the glasses, the wearer can switch between two separate data banks.
In a factory or hospital, AR glasses serve a similar purpose, providing important data to workers whose hands are otherwise engaged and improving safety standards in the process.
What was most striking, having never worn a pair of AR glasses for more than a few minutes, was how quickly I got used to receiving information in this new way.
Initially, it was disconcerting to have an artificial light source hovering at the periphery of vision, and the temptation was to physically turn your head to view the information contained in the lens. But the rapid lateral eye movement needed to get a clear look at the characters soon became second nature.
And while the extra technology makes the smart glasses heavier than a regular pair, they’re comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time, which will be a crucial factor if the technology is to enable true penetration. Sure, pro-grade AR glasses are even bulkier, but they also benefit from extra strapping and support.
Engo glasses also feature photochromic lenses that automatically adapt to lighting conditions, which in theory means the same set can be used at any time of the day. In practice I’ve found the lenses to work well in direct sunlight and bright sunlight and are a little dark at night, but they certainly weren’t unusable, and I can imagine a similar style of lens would be useful for repair technicians and other workers operating in outdoor environments.
As for the data itself, the AMOLED display was bright enough to ensure readability of information even on the sunniest days.
So close, and yet so far
As illuminating as the experience was, I still wouldn’t fit the Engo smart glasses into my regular riding gear. And for the same reasons, AR glasses like these will continue to find a relatively limited audience in the professional sphere too, at least until a few issues can be ironed out.
The most frustrating problem is that unless the glasses are positioned exactly on the bridge of the nose, the data projected into the lens becomes blurry to the point of being unreadable or disappears altogether.
This field of vision issue is less than ideal on a downhill bike ride, and would be even more annoying for someone doing a tricky repair on a machine, performing surgery, or doing anything else. other. And the problem is not uncommon either; the first-gen HoloLens had a notoriously thin field of view, which led to all sorts of clipping and visual issues.
The second problem was that the glasses often misinterpreted a gaze toward the road or the shadow of a passing tree as the hand motion that triggers switching between data screens. It’s hard to draw a general conclusion based on a quirk of a particular set of glasses, but it highlighted the need for all sensors to be working at full capacity for AR to deliver on its promise.
Last but not least, there is the vanity factor. Inevitably, the need to squeeze processors, lasers, and mirrors into a head-mounted device means AR glasses are bulkier than regular glasses. Engo has done a decent job of concealing the hardware, but the glasses still make the wearer look like a bluefly.
Until AR glasses start to look a little more stylish, I predict a general reluctance to wear them in whatever new scenarios they might enable. Nobody wants to be next”glass hole”.
Is the AR revolution inevitable?
The amount of investment flowing into the XR sector and the major hardware contracts signed by militaries like the US military suggest that the technology is advancing, at least in some sectors.
The industrial market will undoubtedly be the first to adopt AR, as the technology offers a new solution to a long-standing problem, providing plant operators and repair technicians with a way to access data and communications in hands-free in harsh environments.
In an office context, AR glasses are more of a quality of life enhancement, meaning the expense is hard for businesses to justify, regardless of the potential productivity benefits.
However, as with all emerging hardware, the price of AR glasses will come down and manufacturers will figure out how to pack more compute into a smaller, lighter form factor. We’ve seen this process play out in the consumer VR space before, with standalone headsets like the Oculus Quest and HTC Vive Focus largely competitive with PC-connected models of years past.
When the sums start to look a little more reasonable for business, it’s easy to envision augmented reality playing a bigger role in all of our working lives, not just for factory workers, the military, and IT professionals. health.
Imagine a scenario where remote workers trade in their multi-monitor setups for a combination of traditional, AR, and VR displays.
While activities such as document editing and web browsing might be better suited to a conventional business monitor, the AR glasses could send email and Slack notifications and alert the wearer of upcoming calendar reservations . Before an important event or meeting, workers can then upgrade to a lightweight VR headset that better simulates in-person interaction.
Until now, I’ve been relatively skeptical of this vision of the workplace of the future, peddled mostly by XR hardware makers and other companies that have skin in the game. We probably already have too many screens in our lives, without a pair of specs that send laser data into our eye line, I thought.
But experience with the Engo glasses, insofar as they can only be considered a loose comparator, showed me that AR doesn’t need to be intrusive. And the potential use cases are compelling.
I may not be ready for AR yet, but AR isn’t quite ready for me yet either.