Head-mounted displays for reality augmentation: a survey

“Head-mounted”: It’s a lovely term, and one we’ll be hearing more frequently as our mortal frame becomes scaffolding for gadgetry. Now seems a good time to take a glance at the state of the art in head mountables.

In a patent application, Microsoft revealed its plans for a “head-mounted display” — essentially a pair of eyeglasses fitted out with a microchip, a camera, a location sensor, a network connection, and some other stuff:


Designed to be worn at “live events” — of both the “scripted” (eg, opera) and the “semi-random” (eg, baseball) varieties — the glasses will project an overlay of “supplemental information” on the proceedings, according to the application. For instance:

In FIG. 1B [below], supplemental information display elements 160, 162 and 164 is provided regarding the game in progress. Within a display device 150, a first display element of supplemental information 160 provides information regarding the pitcher 24. This indicates that the pitcher “Joe Smith” has a record of 14 wins and 900 losses, and a 2.23 earned run average (ERA).* Display element 162 provides supplemental information regarding the batter 23. The display element 162 illustrates that the batter’s name is Willie Randolph, that the batter has a 0.303 batting average, and a 0.755 slugging percentage. Display element 164 positioned at the bottom of the display indicates the score of the game. Various types of indicators and various types of supplemental information may be provided within the course of a live event. Each display element may contain all or a subset of information regarding the object.

Wow. That sounds almost as good as watching a game on TV. I’ve only recently come to realize that the great historical shortcoming of our leisure activities has been their lack of data intensity.

Microsoft’s head-mounted display is a variation on Google Glass, a more streamlined, multi-purpose piece of reality-augmentation eyeware that, circulating in prototype form, has already impressed the impressionable. In Google’s view of the future, a head-mounted display will insert a layer of media technology between, among many other things, mothers and their babies, enriching the traditionally data-parched maternal experience:


Google and Microsoft are far from the only players in head-mounted displays. Earlier this year, Apple was granted a patent for “methods and apparatus for treating the peripheral area of a user’s field of view in a head mounted display, and thereby creating improved comfort and usability for head mounted displays.” Vuzix, a company that makes virtual-reality gear for gamers and the military, plans to introduce its Smart Glasses M100, an Android-based augmented-reality wearable for civilians, next spring. The device looks like a cross between a Bluetooth headset and a windshield wiper:


And Olympus, the Japanese camera maker, also has a head-mounted display, the MEG4.0, in the works. It’s shaping up to be a particularly stylish number:

All these products spring from a common source, the fabled X-Ray Specs, which was the first head-mounted display explicitly designed for geek wish-fulfillment:

Head-mounted displays can augment reality in many ways, of course, and it’s worth remembering that some of the most information-rich examples predate the digital era:

Not even the Nez Perce war bonnet, though, can match the reality-augmenting power of the greatest head-mounted display ever created:

One question worth keeping in mind when evaluating the new crop of head-mounted devices is whether they will end up broadening the augmentational capacity of the human eye or narrowing it.


*14 wins and 900 losses, with a 2.23 ERA? That Joe Smith is one unlucky pitcher.

Photo credits: Mom and augmented baby, Google; M100, Vuzix; MEG4.0, Olympus; Chief Joseph, public domain; eyes, Paolo Neoz (Flickr).

3 thoughts on “Head-mounted displays for reality augmentation: a survey

  1. Becquerel

    As all technology, I think the “head-mounted display” idea will only have a positive effect on its users if first tested safely, and then used appropriately. I think too often when new devices are being built, people start with the question “What can we make better for humans through technology?” rather than “How can we make humans better through technology?”

    I recently did research on the benefits of reading in print vs. on-screen reading, and the information I gathered is why I believe the importance of safe testing is necessary. Reading on-screen has proved to be detrimental to the human eye in multiple ways, mostly due to the fact that it makes the eye work harder. This type of “head-mounted display” would mean constant on-screen reading for the viewer with many little blurbs of information for the mind to keep track of. The eye would be forced to work rapidly to absorb everything the display was showing it. The developers would really need to consider what the long-term effects of this overworking of the eyes could result in.

    Appropriate use of the “head-mounted display” would also need to be taken into consideration by both the developers and the users. A mother being able to view her child’s heart rate to ensure the health of the child? Good! A teenager being able to look around the room and simultaneously see the relationship status’ of all of their peers? Maybe not so good.

    The “head-mounted display” should increase the human ability to learn, understand, and react to situations. It should not further addict the human race to the wonders of the internet, further detaching the mind from the importance of the real world and the real people in it.

    I like the idea of a “head-mounted display” and think it could prove extremely beneficial to our world. It would make for a very cool device, not unlike the “virtu-goggles” from Disney’s Phil of the Future. But it can only benefit our world if we use it with intelligence and self-control.

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