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Virtual Reality More than Just Fun and Games
Virtual Reality More than Just Fun and Games

By Johnny Yu
February 8, 2014 2:05PM

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A new wave of virtual and augmented reality devices could mainstream the technology, and it's not just for gaming anymore. Virtual reality devices such as the Avegant Glyph (shown) provide immersive experiences into digital worlds, while augmented reality deices like the Epson Moverio BT-200 overlay images into your regular view.

Bring up the subject of virtual reality with a hard-core gamer, and conversation will inevitably shift to the Oculus Rift. VR has been a holy grail since the early 1980s, thanks to films stretching from Tron through The Matrix. The Rift seems set to finally bring those fantasies to life.

But Rift is one of many virtual- and augmented-reality devices set to hit the market. From advanced media consumption to improved human-machine interaction, many products remind us that the future of this technology doesn't lie in gaming alone.

Avegant Glyph

Michigan-based start-up Avegant is developing the Glyph, a headset that combines a pair of premium over-ear headphones with a flip-down visor. But unlike conventional VR headsets that employ miniature LCD displays, the Glyph projects images directly onto your retinas.

This Virtual Retinal Display delivers digital content that mimics how we see the world naturally. We tried out a prototype at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, and found it produced brilliantly clear pictures notably free of pixilation. Since the device projects to each eye independently, images and videos can be delivered in lifelike 3-D.

On its Kickstarter page, the Glyph is advertised as a "mobile personal theater," but it's more. Avegant CEO Edward Tang says that despite surface similarities, Glyph and Oculus Rift "aren't competing for the same market. Actually, I think people can own both devices because they serve very different purposes."

There are also hints that the Glyph's unusual hardware could be used for purposes more ambitious than simple entertainment. Though it can't correct for astigmatism, diopters built into the Glyph can handle severe near- or far-sightedness. That speaks to potential medical uses.

Tang confirms that Avegant has explored repurposing the retinal display to help vision-impaired users see the world in ways traditional glasses can't match, but doesn't have anything public to share just yet.

Moverio Smart Glasses

Though it's best known for producing consumer printers, Epson has been in the augmented-reality market since 2011, when it launched the Moverio BT-100 smart glasses. At this year's CES, the company unveiled their successor, the BT-200.

These glasses can be used to play games, but that's not their only purpose. The BT-200 attempts to enhance your vision of the real world, overlaying it with digital information through two transparent displays. Downloadable Android apps can provide real-time, interactive information on objects in your field of view.

Some apps being developed for the BT-200 include a training program for auto mechanics that highlights and labels car parts in the wearer's view, and a medical imaging app that overlays a patient with the vascular system. (continued...)

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