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Hands-on with Meta 1, a 3D augmented reality headset with a natural UI (video)


Augmented reality is the future, or at least the proliferation of AR apps and hardware seems to indicate that'll be the case. Meta revealed its own augmented reality device, called Meta 1, in January and is currently in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to ramp up manufacturing and get it to the people. If the headset looks familiar, that's because its hardware is: it's comprised, in no small part, of Epson and SoftKinetic gear. It utilizes the 960 x 540 binocular 3D displays from Epson's Moverio glasses and the depth sensor sitting atop them comes from SoftKinetic. Of course the glasses you see are but a first generation and are wired to a battery pack worn around the waist -- the company's currently working on slimming things down with customized eyewear that'll be revealed later this year, however. For now, the dev kit and the still-in-development Unity-based SDK are slated to ship in September, but we got to see some of what Meta 1 can do a bit early.

Like Atheer Labs, Meta is aiming to create an AR system that provides users with a natural interface. That means you can reach out and interact with three dimensional graphical objects, as opposed to using just gestures and voice to navigate the OS. We demoed Meta-1, and found it a similar experience to our time with Atheer's prototype device. Grabbing objects by making a fist and moving them around in space is an interesting computing experience, but the accuracy of the system is far from ideal. We found it difficult to tell how far we needed to extend our hand to interact with an object at times, and the functionality at this point is rudimentary.

Of course, the SDK isn't finished yet, and the UI is still in its infancy. While the SDK has several layers of abstraction to make coding for Meta easier, the company's software stack is open -- so more advanced devs have access to and can utilize all of the depth data coming from the cameras. We'll get a better idea of Meta 1's capabilities when we see what kind of experiences developers build once they get their hands on it.

Company founder Meron Gribetz informed us that he has been working to find the right UI paradigm for AR for over two years now. With Meta 1, he thinks he can deliver a better AR experience than ever before thanks to the advanced depth sensing and surface tracking technology his company is working on. Plus, Steve Mann, the father of wearable computing, has recently signed on as Chief Scientist for the company and will be heavily involved with developing the platform moving forward. We don't know what the full Meta experience will look like when it arrives, but we are looking forward to finding out.

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