Introducing iShades 5G. With fast 5G wireless technology, 3D GPS mapping, support for personal DVD/HDTV, Google Virtual Earth 3D, and instant communication anywhere in actual or virtual space, iShades 5G puts an RGB-layered holographic optical element at your fingertips. It provides completely clear see-through operation for applications that require data reference while you keep your hands on the job. iShades 5G. Chic and wraparound, they define what a wearable heads-up display can do.
No, you can’t actually go out and buy a pair of these today. (And yes, I made up the 5G part.) But imagine wearing your smart phone or iPod within a pair of sunglasses. SBG Labs, an optical technology company in Sunnyvale, California, is among the businesses developing prototypes for such heads-up displays – stylish wraparounds that look like something from a cyberpunk novel.
The recent announcement that the web market share of Apple’s iPod touch has tripled – as Microsoft Windows reaches a new low – puts Apple Computer, Inc. in a unique position to market eyeglasses or contact lenses that can deliver digital images directly from a smart phone to the retina. Apple continues to hold the largest market share by far of all mobile operating systems.
Even though they’re not talking, you can bet Apple probably has something like “iShades” on their product roadmap. These glasses will make wireless access, video display and 3D visualization more accessible than ever.
Early versions of wraparound glasses currently on the market include Myvu personal media viewers – immersive shades that provide an immersive stereophonic big-screen movie theater effect using images from tiny Apple iPod screens.
BG Labs’ Wearable PC Display eyeglasses use a special projection lense with an RGB-layered holographic optical element. They allow completely clear see-through operation for applications that require data reference while keeping your hands on the job – a visual Bluetooth device like the ones California drivers use with their cell phones while driving the freeways.
SBG eyeglasses are still in the prototype stage and no price has been set for them yet. Jonathan Waldern, the company’s founder and chief technology officer says, “SBG is concentrating on military and avionics applications, with consumer uses to follow.”
The concept of overlaying computer-generated imagery on the real world – known as “augmented reality” – has been under development since the 1960s. “It is poised to revolutionize the way we perceive and interact with digital information,” says Jannick Rolland, a professor of optics and biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester.
Rolland envisions hospital rooms and doctors’ offices where surgeons, physicians, and medical staff use heads-up glasses, “to guide an imaging or scalpel device within the human body, or to analyze or monitor a feature of a patient’s physiology in more detail.”
In remote spaces, hikers can rely on miniature GPS electronics to illustrate a path out of the woods or through the mountains. She talks about a “proximal, wireless link” that can transfer a victim’s heart rate, galvanic skin conductance, or pupil dilation through their glasses.
Another possible application mentioned by Desney Tan at Microsoft Corp. would be to use the eyewear as a wearer’s personal whisperer at conferences and cocktail parties. “What if every time I passed by a person, I had their name come up on the display?” asks Dr. Tan. “We could even add information on the last time I saw them and what we chatted about.”
The next generation of heads-up displays will let you look through them and see the real world – like the sidewalk just ahead – but will also let you access virtual information like an electronic map or an arrow showing the correct way to a destination on an overlay image.
The technology uses a process called holographic optics. Light-emitting laser diodes in a tiny projector are stored in the side of the eyeglass frame – they shoot highly concentrated beams to the surface of the eyeglasses. Transparent holographic gratings diffract the light to your eyes in ways that ordinary optical components like prisms cannot.
Contact lenses – still in the early stages of testing – are also being developed for mobile displays. Babak A. Parviz, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, leads a team that has created a biocompatible contact lens that has miniaturized electronics and optoelectronics integrated into the lens.
Light-emitting diodes and other semiconductor components of the display are made separately and then moved to the lens, which is composed of the same plastic used in beverage bottles. The entire device gets a biocompatible coating.
Eyeglasses and contact lenses with holographic optics, light-emitting diodes, and wearable computers built into clothing are the stuff of Vernor Vinge’s 2006 novel Rainbow’s End. A modern day Rip Van Winkle from our time is awakened from his long Alzheimer’s sleep into the world of 2025.
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