Innovation

Could Microsoft's new hologram glasses replace traditional eyeglasses?

Microsoft has unveiled research into digital holography glasses that could bring new innovations in AR and VR.

Enterprises are still in the early stages of understanding how virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) can be used to reach business goals. Part of the problem is that these devices are often bulky, and do not provide enough information for the brain to judge depth and create a full field of view.

A team at Microsoft Research has proposed a new solution: Holograms. In a paper to be presented at SIGGRAPH 2017 in July, the team explained how digital holography can be used to build more realistic near-eye displays for VR and AR experiences—in the form of an average-looking pair of glasses.

Holography works when light waves from a 3D scene interact with a flat surface to form a sophisticated hologram pattern. Then, using a beam of laser light to re-create the 3D scene, these holograms can essentially be "played back" in all of their depth, the researchers wrote. These displays provide more accurate focal control than other options on the market because you can access them with each pixel in focus, the researchers noted.

Typically, glasses-sized AR and VR displays feature very narrow fields of view, of under 20 degrees horizontal, while the larger goggle- or helmet-sized displays offer wider fields of view, of about 80 degrees. However, the Microsoft Research team's prototype demonstrates that it is possible to create a larger field of vision in a smaller space.

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Microsoft's prototype holographic near-eye display glasses for virtual and augmented reality.

Image: Microsoft Research

SEE: Microsoft HoloLens: The smart person's guide

"In our work, we created a simple prototype display with a sunglasses-like form factor, but a wide field of view (80 degrees horizontal)," the researchers wrote. "The key insight from our admittedly crude prototype is that we can create an optical design with visual defects, that is very compact, and then correct the defects in the hologram calculation."

The researchers also demonstrated how it is possible to create high-contrast, high-resolution, full-color digital holograms with existing hardware, as well as to use eye tracking to create holograms that offer high image quality to the area where the user is currently looking. Using GPU-accelerated algorithms, the researchers accomplished this real-time hologram generation at rates of 90-260 Hz on a desktop GPU.

Another important challenge to solve in near-eye displays is vision correction for users that do not have perfect eyesight, the researchers noted. "If we ultimately wish to make a display the size of eyeglasses, we must build the functionality of eyeglasses into the display," according to a Microsoft blog post about the research.

Currently, it's not possible to build adequate focal depth into an average-sized pair of AR or VR glasses, while also correcting for vision problems such as astigmatism, the researchers said. But holographic displays can correct for this problem completely in software "by pre-distorting the emitted light waves so that they appear correct when viewed by the eye," according to the blog post.

According to Microsoft researchers, the new display would allow users to view the holographic display without the assistance of their eyeglasses. The display can correct for near-sightedness, far-sightedness, and astigmatism, the researchers wrote.

This could have a number of implications for the future, especially, in the workforce, for field workers or repair workers to more easily access important information directly from their glasses, while also taking into account any vision problems. Doctors in Oslo are already using Microsoft's current HoloLens platform to turn traditional two-dimensional medical images into 3D augmented-reality models for planning surgery and navigating around organs during operations, ZDNet reported.

However, the blog post noted that this project is not necessarily indicative of Microsoft's future product offerings, but rather "relates to basic research around holographic displays."

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

1. In a new paper, a Microsoft Research team unveiled a prototype pair of glasses that use digital holography to build more realistic near-eye displays for VR and AR experiences.

2. The glasses prototype offers a fuller range of vision in a smaller space than bulky VR/AR headsets currently on the market, and can even correct users' vision problems.

3. Microsoft noted that this prototype is not necessarily indicative of any future Microsoft products.

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About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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