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Get Ready for iShades 5G

iShades

Introducing iShades 5G. With fast 5G wireless technology, 3D GPS mapping, support for personal DVD/HDTV, Google Virtual Earth 3D, and instant communication anywhere in actual or virtual space, iShades 5G puts an RGB-layered holographic optical element at your fingertips. It provides completely clear see-through operation for applications that require data reference while you keep your hands on the job. iShades 5G. Chic and wraparound, they define what a wearable heads-up display can do.

No, you can’t actually go out and buy a pair of these today. (And yes, I made up the 5G part.) But imagine wearing your smart phone or iPod within a pair of sunglasses. SBG Labs, an optical technology company in Sunnyvale, California, is among the businesses developing prototypes for such heads-up displays – stylish wraparounds that look like something from a cyberpunk novel.

The recent announcement that the web market share of Apple’s iPod touch has tripled – as Microsoft Windows reaches a new low – puts Apple Computer, Inc. in a unique position to market eyeglasses or contact lenses that can deliver digital images directly from a smart phone to the retina. Apple continues to hold the largest market share by far of all mobile operating systems.

Even though they’re not talking, you can bet Apple probably has something like “iShades” on their product roadmap. These glasses will make wireless access, video display and 3D visualization more accessible than ever.

Early versions of wraparound glasses currently on the market include Myvu personal media viewers – immersive shades that provide an immersive stereophonic big-screen movie theater effect using images from tiny Apple iPod screens.

The next generation of heads-up displays will let you look through them and see the real world – like the sidewalk just ahead – but will also let you access virtual information like an electronic map or an arrow showing the correct way to a destination on an overlay image.

Light-emitting laser diodes in a tiny projector are stored in the side of the eyeglass frame – they shoot highly concentrated beams…

SBG Labs’ Wearable PC Display eyeglasses use a special projection lense with an RGB-layered holographic optical element. They allow completely clear see-through operation for applications that require data reference while keeping your hands on the job – a visual Bluetooth device like the ones California drivers use with their cell phones while driving the freeways.

SBG eyeglasses are still in the prototype stage and no price has been set for them yet. Jonathan Waldern, the company’s founder and chief technology officer says, “SBG is concentrating on military and avionics applications, with consumer uses to follow.”

The concept of overlaying computer-generated imagery on the real world – known as “augmented reality” – has been under development since the 1960s. “It is poised to revolutionize the way we perceive and interact with digital information,” says Jannick Rolland, a professor of optics and biomedical engineering at the University of Rochester.

Rolland envisions hospital rooms and doctors’ offices where surgeons, physicians, and medical staff use heads-up glasses, “to guide an imaging or scalpel device within the human body, or to analyze or monitor a feature of a patient’s physiology in more detail.”

In remote spaces, hikers can rely on miniature GPS electronics to illustrate a path out of the woods or through the mountains. She talks about a “proximal, wireless link” that can transfer a victim’s heart rate, galvanic skin conductance, or pupil dilation through their glasses.

Another possible application mentioned by Desney Tan at Microsoft Corp. would be to use the eyewear as a wearer’s personal whisperer at conferences and cocktail parties. “What if every time I passed by a person, I had their name come up on the display?” asks Dr. Tan. “We could even add information on the last time I saw them and what we chatted about.”

iShades

The technology uses a process called holographic optics. Light-emitting laser diodes in a tiny projector are stored in the side of the eyeglass frame – they shoot highly concentrated beams to the surface of the eyeglasses. Transparent holographic gratings diffract the light to your eyes in ways that ordinary optical components like prisms cannot.

Contact lenses – still in the early stages of testing – are also being developed for mobile displays. Babak A. Parviz, an associate professor of electrical engineering at the University of Washington, Seattle, leads a team that has created a biocompatible contact lens that has miniaturized electronics and optoelectronics integrated into the lens.

Light-emitting diodes and other semiconductor components of the display are made separately and then moved to the lens, which is composed of the same plastic used in beverage bottles. The entire device gets a biocompatible coating.

Eyeglasses and contact lenses with holographic optics, light-emitting diodes, and wearable computers built into clothing are the stuff of Vernor Vinge’s 2006 novel Rainbow’s End. A modern day Rip Van Winkle from our time is awakened from his long Alzheimer’s sleep into the world of 2025.

iShadesAre You Wearing?
In Vinge’s world, you type in the air with your fingers on a phantom keyboard made visible by contact lenses. As you become proficient, you’re able to access computer resources and communicate with other users on the globally networked 3D web by more subtle gestures, including facial and eye movements.

In the world of 2025 there is no need for smart phones. You can connect with anyone in the world in seconds – if you’re wearing. Anyone can attend a play, a sporting event, or just visit with friends at remote locations anytime, anywhere – in virtual space. If you’re not comfortable wearing, you can always find an antique laptop to get what you need from the Internet.

Like a 3D Google map with overlays, you can filter your surroundings as you travel in your computer-controlled car. You view buildings and their inhabitants with pop-up descriptions, choose a viewpoint such as underground cables and pipes and “click” on them for more information using simple eye movement.

Fantasy? SBG Labs’ prototype Digilens Pico Projector is like having a ”miniature laser projector built into your cell phone.” Stand it on its end, and it projects digital media the size of a sheet of paper onto the desk in front of you. Now you can see a web page, enjoy a movie, or show someone your family photos.

Take the top half of the image and read your email while you tap your fingers on the keyboard-illuminated picture on the lower half. The keys click and move – as if you had an actual keyboard. Yes, this is today’s technology.

Vinge’s novel explores further the idea of augmented reality and virtual overlays. Your own 3D landscapes — or those of your 3D social network or “belief circle” — become like a skin over the actual world when viewed through your glasses or contact lenses. You’re literally wearing your world.

If you and your friends want to live in a world where houses are castles and police helicopters are dragons, so be it.

Several belief circles are presented in the novel, including worlds based on authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Terry Pratchett, and the fictional Jerzy Hacek. Every day events suddenly become like a combination of today’s 3D Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, except that gamebots and 3D virtual friends walking around your kitchen become – excuse the pun – virtually indistinguishable.

Yes, iShades 5G. The next generation of heads-up displays may not let you overlay the virtual reality of your choice – as in Vinge’s fictional vision – but they may soon eliminate the need to carry an iPod or a smart phone to access the Internet, visualize 3D data, and communicate with your friends.