If you are a business involved in creating physical products, no need to drool about Google Glass's augmented reality. Canon is now going beyond "augmented" by launching a new Mixed Reality (MR) headset and system for product design and other business uses.
Earlier this week, the company announced the introduction of the product, initially for the Japanese market. It merges the visible world with a modeled-and-rendered virtual reality, to help engineers and designers visualize and experience cars, consumer electronics and other products in a real world context.
Canon said this merging of real-plus-virtual puts the system ahead of existing virtual reality products, which only present computer generated (CG) environments. Augmented reality, which the company describes as a kind of mixed reality, offers the superimposition of some CG imagery onto the real, visible world. Canon said its system goes beyond that by providing full-scale, 3D CG imagery that can be viewed from any point of view.
Two major augmented reality products are moving into the market. One is Nokia's City Lens, a Windows Phone 8 app that enables users to get on-screen information about a location by pointing the phone's camera.
The other is Google Glass, which is steadily advancing step-by-step toward release. It provides interactive data overlays on what the user sees, offers communications and video/photo recording capabilities, and is expected to cost a mere $1,500 or so. Depending on configuration, Canon's professional MR is expected to be priced in the neighborhood of $125,000.
The MR system is intended to enable the viewing of full-scale, 3D, computer-generated images that the company said "instantly react to changes in a user's direction or movements," thus allowing designers and engineers to evaluate a design in an experiential way. Canon said the system can reduce the number of prototypes required, and can shorten the development phase.
Other applications of the MR system could extend beyond product design and development. Canon's example uses include "walking through" the layout of production equipment at a manufacturing site to determine the most efficient and safest arrangement in a plant before installation.
Two Video Cameras
The system could also be used to simulate products in specific situations or configurations for customers before they are built, assembled or deployed, or create more realistic walkthroughs of not-yet-built buildings than is currently available. Initially, the company intends to focus on industrial design and other design fields, and will offer customized systems.
Canon's MR system features two video cameras inside the head-mounted display, one in front of each eye. These capture the real world, which is fed to a computer. Alignment technology, using directional sensor data, combines the real world images with the computer's generated ones, which is then displayed to the viewer in real-time. A free-form prism creates low distortion images in peripheral areas.
The end result, Canon said, is the "impression that visuals are being seen with the naked eye."
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT, noted that virtual reality has been a "fairly common" tool in some industries since the 1990s, such as the widespread use in the auto industry for product design, visualization of fluid dynamics, and even virtual crash tests. "The systems cost millions," he said, "but the ROI was quick," considering the costs of performing the same tasks in the real world.
King said he expected the Canon system, which might be seen as relatively inexpensive compared with earlier enterprise systems, could find a foothold. With Google Glass, in comparison, "we may finally be seeing the crossover" from VR being "a simple plaything used primarily for gaming to something more serious."