Thanks to science fiction movies, most people think of augmented reality interfaces in terms of rotating, wall size, 3D holograms that can be manipulated with just a wave of the hand. While Google Glass is off to a promising start in its use of AR, the reality of AR interfaces have been quite a bit less impressive; however, thanks to a collaboration between a research team from the University of North Carolina and visual computing company Nvidia, AR technology is taking another giant step forward.

As recently highlighted on ExtremeTech, the primary goal of the UNC/Nvidia team was to address the small screen and narrow field of vision (FOV) offered by most current AR heads-up devices. That small screen and narrow FOV, a requirement due to the limitations of cost, weight and battery life, does a poor job of accurately representing objects while also limiting how much a user can manipulate it.

To combat those limitations, the UNC/Nvidia collaboration instead opted for a pair of glasses with what they call a “pinlight display.” The pinlight display places transparent point-light sources that can project light directly into the eye at a minimal distance from the pupil. This allows the rays of light that comprise the display to be beamed straight into the eye. Since one point light can’t create a visible field, the group used a hexagonally tiled group of point lights to create a superimposed visual image.

Created by a needle connected to the arm of a 3D printer, the dots of the wave-guide-based pinlight display are visible when viewed at a distance with light shining on the acrylic, but invisible when projected at close range. To create the most cohesive overlay, the UNC/Nvidia collaborative analyzed eye response to a number of projector configurations before choosing a design that minimally overlaps to fill the focus plane. Doing so creates an evenly toned image with an encoded virtual aperture over the modulation plane to keep the overlapping light from reaching the eye.

While the UNC/Nvidia research team has just presented their prototype, their broad field of vision pinlight AR display has the potential to offer more researchers more opportunities to apply AR to real-world applications. It may not be the stuff of science fiction movies yet, but the future of AR glasses is certainly in sight.

Photo and video credit: Nvidia