Focus is key to blending virtual objects with the real world

Avegant's Light Field adds a realistic depth-of-field effect to virtual objects.

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You might remember Avegant for its unusual take on the video headset. The Glyph looked like (and doubled up as) headphone cans but worked pretty well. We called it "a wearable cinema for serious movie fans." Now, the startup is taking on a bigger challenge with Light Field, its "mixed reality platform" that can visualize objects "at multiple focal planes". That means that it can offer variably focused virtual objects in the real world. Until now, the inability to change focus has meant virtual objects appear out of place in the real world. Take a look at the image above: The Mars Rover in the hand is in the same position (and focus) as the hand, while Mars and the corridor behind are out of focus until that focus shifts. (Milanese Apple Watch band optional. We hope.)

Avegant wants to make virtual objects appear more realistic at different distances. It also sounds like what investment-flush Magic Leap has been promising in recent years: more realistic virtual viewing and, most likely, the future of augmented reality. The company is planning on transforming this prototype into a consumer product. (Part of technology comes from its Glyph projector which projected an augmented reality screen for the wearer.) The technology this time is much more advanced, and offers more detailed projections. The company says this makes for a "more realistic and interactive experience".

The technology will apparently work across multiple major hardware and software platforms. It doesn't specifically mention any VR (or AR) hardware makers, but it gives a nod to Unity, which is used to make an awful lot of current VR content. According to Kurt Guttag, a heads-up display expert that's had a play, the headset is bulkier than Microsoft's Hololens, but added that it was an engineering prototype. (He also got a behind-the-scenes play at CES, months ago in January. The hardware has almost certainly moved on since then.)

Guttag said that the ability to see virtual objects in different focuses demonstrated that the tech was "well beyond" Hololens and its standard stereoscopic tech. Interestingly there's no moving parts to help focus the images — and it doesn't use eye-tracking either, apparently. While this means it's a bit of a mystery as to how it all works, Avegant says this helps to ensure it's "economical to make" — an important point to make when rival Magic Leap is dealing in billions of investment bucks.

Edward Tang, co-founder and CTO at Avegant said: "The biggest stumbling block for mixed reality today is creating crystal clear images that are within one meter. Without this capability, most mixed reality use cases simply can't materialize." The team believes the tech can make its way into commercial and industrial uses, as well as offering more realistic entertainment and gaming experiences on the way. "We've overcome that obstacle, and can't wait for people to experience the results," he added.

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