In “The Man with the X-Ray Eyes,” a B-movie sci-fi film from the 1960s, the protagonist develops eye drops to see beyond the visible spectrum. Spoiler: on that occasion, the experiment did not end very well. However, the new glasses developed by the American MIT offer an exciting application of augmented reality that could be a worthy heir to that film fantasy. And with a much more practical result. The new augmented reality glasses use a mixture of artificial vision and radio frequencies.
AR glasses with RFID technology
The first successful applications of augmented reality have focused on professional uses of the technology – for example, by displaying data in real-time during surgical operations or representing the location of a new wall on a construction site. In general, industrial environments such as wastewater processing plants, where hands-free work and immediate access to information are essential, will be some of the biggest beneficiaries. At MIT, they are exploring a new feature for augmented reality glasses that expands on that, allowing them to locate objects behind walls and parts within machines. The secret? The same RFID technology that identifies products in a store or warehouse.
Researchers have programmed AR glasses, dubbed X-AR, to display RFID tags on objects as a virtual sphere. Imagine a parcel delivery company employee looking for a box in the middle of a pile of parcels. They select the package they are looking for, and the sphere pops up as a digital overlay. This functionality can also be used across obstacles or walls, with a margin of error of ten centimeters. Similarly, by adding RFID tags to machine parts, those requiring replacement or maintenance can be easily located. Tests have achieved an efficiency of 96 % in finding the correct object.
Technical challenges for “X-ray” AR glasses
To attain this level of precision, the project developers have integrated an RFID antenna into the AR glasses with sufficient power to detect the tags in the predefined area. The technique is based on synthetic aperture radar (SAR), like that aircraft use to map objects on the ground. As the user moves around a room, signals from the RFID tag and the positioning functions of the glasses are combined to calculate the object’s proximity.
Once all this information is available, it is displayed holographically on the lenses. The object is represented with a semi-transparent sphere, and coupled with that, the trajectory to reach the object is shown through virtual footprints on the ground, updated in real-time as the user gets closer. Once they hold the object, the graphical interface confirms it is correct.
Following this first testing phase, the researchers plan to analyze other radio frequency technologies, such as WiFi or mmWave – used in 5G antennas – to improve interaction and display functionalities. They also hope to extend the antenna range to improve the current three-meter limit.
Other applications of augmented reality
Following this site will let you know we have covered several augmented, mixed and virtual reality applications lately. One of the most striking is the one that allows an AR glasses user to translate an interlocutor’s words in real-time and display them as subtitles on their lenses. And as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, construction is already harnessing the potential of augmented reality to speed up projects and improve productivity. However, AR devices must also optimize their ergonomics and usability for the technology to enjoy mass adoption. One approach could be the development of smart contact lenses that display holograms directly on the eyes.