You remember that magical "One Day" video that Google created to show off its Google Glass concept? Yeah, too bad it was all fake, because it's not physically possible for your eye to focus on so much detail that close. Unless, of course, you hack your eye.
This is what Innovega has done, and at CES, the company is showing a functional prototype that looks to be quite a bit further along than what we've seen from Google Glass.
The reason that we'll never have eyeglasses that can project video is that you just can't focus on something at the distance of the lens of a conventional pair of glasses. Go on, try it. You'll just give yourself a headache. There are two ways to sort of fake it: giant lenses and high resolution screens like you'll find on the Oculus Rift, or chunky optics and a low resolution projected display, like Google Glass has.
The way Innovega gets around this problem is by modifying your eyeballs to focus much, much closer. Innovega has developed a special contact lens called iOptik that is completely transparent, except that it can refocus polarized light (like the light from a display) so that you have no problems seeing it. And it's not an either-or thing: with the contact lenses in, the world looks completely normal, except that you can suddenly see a high resolution display that's projected on a pair of glasses, superimposed transparently across up to 120 degrees of your field of view.
A year ago, Innovega just had the contact lens and a proof of concept system, but the company made a lot of progress since then. This year, it's showing off an actual prototype of the glasses as well. It's almost fully functional: the last piece of the puzzle is to develop optics that will allow the projectors on the sides of the glasses to bounce the image sideways off the lenses without distortion. Relative to what Innovega has pulled off so far, this seems like a pretty minor thing, and they'll have a completed prototype up and running later this year.
As a demonstration, Innovega set up a mannequin head with the glasses and a contact lens, plus a camera where the eye would be. This image shows the view through the camera, looking through the lens at the image projected on the glasses:
The lighting is terrible (and you're looking at a video of a video), but the display is running 720p at 60 frames per second, in full color, transparently overlaid on top of the rest of the world. Here's how Innovega sees the future of this technology, along with some of what's working in the present:
We just want to emphasize that while Innovega's concept video is very similar to Google's concept video for glass, the key difference is that this thing is achievable in less than a year using Innovega's current hardware, while Google is (as far as we know) nowhere near that close with the current incarnation of Glass. You can see it in the sample footage: it's not as elegant as what Google's fantasizing about, but that's largely fantasy, and Innovega's iOptik display is real, right now.
The other big piece of this is control. Google Glass uses voice, and iOptik can do that, too, but Innovega has also patented a highly accurate type of eye control, kinda like what Tobii has going on. At least in practice; it works in a totally different way.
While the first generation of iOptik has been promised to DARPA in September of this year, there's no reason that we won't be able to get our hands on a consumer version. And it won't even cost that much: the iOptik contact lenses are the same as regular contact lenses, just made in a different mould, so they'll be cheap. And the eyewear might be something like $500, which (in our opinion) is dirt cheap for a high resolution augmented reality display.
We'll keep you updated as iOptik gets closer to market. Below, Innovega Chief Technology Officer Randall Sprague gives an overview of the iOptik system.
Posted on location at CES 2013 in Las Vegas. All photos taken by Evan Ackerman for DVICE.