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Head Mounted Augmented Reality── the Next Disruptive Technology?

5/27/2015 Anant Goel

Unlike virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) provides a gateway to a new dimension without the need to leave our physical world behind. We still see the real world around us in AR [Google Glass, Microsoft HoloLens], whereas in VR [Facebook Oculus, Google Cardboard], the real world is completely blocked out and replaced by a new world that immerses the user in a computer generated environment.

AR is rapidly gaining momentum (and extreme amounts of funding) with great advances and opportunities in science, design, and business. It is not often that a whole new communications medium is introduced to the world. AR will have a profound effect on the way we live, work, and play. Now is the time to imagine, design, and build our virtual future.

Google Glass was a weird failure of sorts, but it did capture attention, excitement, fear, disgust and curiosity. Google Cardboard, Project Tango and all of its latest VR/AR efforts have really been experiments, not full-blown fully-fleshed gadgets.  Can Google help make people care about virtual reality, or augmented reality, and make a bigger, more impressive splash than Facebook Oculus; or Magic Leap; or Microsoft HoloLens? It remains to be seen.

Given the significant coverage of Google Glass and Microsoft HoloLens in industry media and popular culture, Envision IP took a look at other large technology companies that may also be innovating in the augmented reality (AR) and head-mounted display (HMD) space. Since 2012, the AR and HMD market has certainly experienced widespread publicity, acquisitions, and growth.  Presumably driven by an increased adoption of wearable devices in general, many technology companies, both large players and smaller new entrants, are developing glass-like and head-mounted devices, and related components and software, for consumer and enterprise use.

Envision IP recently took another look at the companies that are actively patenting in this space, and identified over 2,300 US patents with claims related to AR and HMD platforms and devices. These patents cover a broad array of technologies specific to the augmented reality space, from display hardware and semiconductors, to software that drives image processing, network connectivity, and personalized content delivery.

MicroVision topped the Envision IP’s list as the largest US patent holder in this space, owning 233 US patents primarily related to hardware components for augmented reality systems, with a focus on miniaturized MEMS and PICO level systems.

Altogether, many of the underlying techniques that are needed to realize highly realistic augmented reality have been demonstrated… but the companies like Google, Magic Leap, and Microsoft will have to refine and combine them in ways no one has yet managed to do. “I think people are starting to realize this is the future of building consumer devices… but it involves big challenges at the intersection of optics, electronics, algorithms, and understanding the human visual system.”
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