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Are You Seeing Clearly?

April 2, 2020
AR/VR sports tremendous potential with a growing list of applications, but widespread success requires addressing a few issues.

As virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR) continue to mature, the individual applications are demonstrating their ability to transform how businesses operate.

However, for the market to realize its potential the industry needs to address two fundamental optical issues: vergence accommodation conflict and focal rivalry. Anyone who has worn one of these AR/VR headsets for any length of time understands the resulting effects: eye fatigue, inability to read text up close and struggles to complete precision tasks. 

Read on as John Kennedy, CEO of Adlens, shares his insights into this AR/VR stumbling block:

IW: Why is the ability to change focus important as AR/VR tech continues to mature?

Kennedy: In AR right now, virtual content can only be projected at one focal distance which forces us to choose between seeing either virtual or real content clearly. This causes focal rivalry between real and virtual content, which means it is impossible to focus on more than one thing at a time making it impossible to create a genuine mixed reality that is accurate and believable. A study conducted by the University of Pisa exploring how focal rivalry affects people’s performance when using AR to complete precision tasks found that accomplishing an AR-assisted task where content is within two meters of the person and requires a high level of precision is not feasible with existing technology.

Meanwhile, in most of today’s VR headsets, the optics are set to a single focal plane in the distance. This forces the user to decouple their eyes natural accommodation response to vergence (the natural triangulation of the eyes, as objects move closer/further away). The resulting mismatch makes VR feel visually unrealistic and can cause visual discomfort, eyestrain and even nausea. Developers such as Oculus recognize this in its developer guide where it recommends not bringing content within one meter of the user.

Both issues are serious limitations to unlocking the promise of immersive technologies and need to be addressed in order to unlock the full potential of AR and VR across both commercial and consumer applications.

IW: What type of applications will the ability to change focus prove most useful?

Kennedy: There are clear benefits for all potential VR/AR users - from consumer to enterprise. While retail and discrete manufacturing are likely to see immediate benefits. Addressing the inability to perform high precision tasks in the real world would enable engineers to carry out maintenance operations in a safe environment, manufacturers to provide on the job work instructions and would unlock the future of immersive healthcare as doctors in a virtual operating theatre not able to perform procedures to the degree of accuracy required would be a non-starter.

IW: How does the technology work?

Kennedy: In AR Adlens is developing Dynamic Focal Integration technology, which overcomes the focal rivalry that your eyes experience when looking at real and virtual content at the same time and allows content to come accurately and believably within arm’s reach. Taking AR beyond smart glasses and making it possible to place real and virtual objects together accurately and believably in the real world, delivering genuine mixed reality.

Also, in VR Adlens is developing Stimulated Eye Engagement technology which re-engages our natural accommodation response to enable the human eye to focus on virtual content in a natural way. Making virtual worlds feel genuinely three dimensional, more realistic and more comfortable by re-engaging the brain’s natural 3D spatial cues.

IW: What do you see as the primary challenges?

Kennedy: Virtual and augmented reality have not yet really taken off because the experience isn’t good enough. Wearing a VR headset for too long can cause eyestrain and even nausea, while with AR, the interaction of real and virtual objects is unrealistic, and this issue cannot be solved by enhancements to software or increased screen resolutions alone. The challenge is in improving the optical interface - the space between the eyes and the screen. A dynamic optical interface is the key to creating an immersive experience capable of bringing real and virtual objects seamlessly together within arm’s reach. Essential for enterprise scenarios where work requires visual fidelity, precision and accuracy.

Immersive technology is transforming how we live, work and communicate but the optical interface is, we believe, an underrepresented area of innovation as manufacturers rush to advance digital technologies. Progress is often measured in smaller hardware or more processing power, but the real progress happens when you understand the human interface in this case - how we see - a field we have spent 15 years exploring. We believe adaptive optical systems, paired with ongoing advances in digital technology have the power to change the way we see forever and will enable us to push the limits of what we see – allowing our vision to work naturally in virtual worlds, in mixed realities and in the real world too.

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