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A small robot floated in my vision and asked a simple question: Where would I like to go?
His name was Sparky, and he was developed especially for the Epson Moverio BT-200 augmented reality glasses I was wearing by a team of students at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. He quickly provided me details about a coffee shop down the block. If I’d stood up, he could have led me all the way there with turn-by-turn directions.
It’s a futuristic version of augmented reality, one where your headset interacts with the real world as it changes around you and (supposedly) improves your productivity and well-being through information and companionship. Researchers are certainly working toward that goal. But, for today, we have the BT-200s.
They are are the subtlest, most polished AR option yet, but they still look straight out of a bad 1980s movie. If you think Google Glass makes people look like a dork, keep away from augmented reality.
The entire industry is in a sort of stepping-stone phase right now. It’s evident in every piece of the BT-200s’ design, from its handheld trackpad to its icon- and cursor-based menu. It feels very familiar, but at the expense of totally diving into the future of augmented reality.
Like most of the rest of the augmented reality industry, Epson is focused on the enterprise. The BT-200 was designed for people who need to call up information in the field; places where a laptop or tablet would be too cumbersome or fragile to take along.
The glasses feel relatively light and comfortable. Without any kind of fine tuning for my vision, I quickly felt my eyes grow strained each time I wore them.
No one can provide true augmented reality at the moment, which would be capable of placing virtual images anywhere in your field of view. Instead, Epson hovers a rectangular screen over your vision. From 10 feet away, it was almost exactly the same size as my 42-inch television.
Booting up the glasses brings you to a menu filled with icons. You drag your finger over the handheld trackpad to move a cursor, and a tap generates a click. The trackpad was responsive, and I didn’t have any problem scrolling and clicking. I actually preferred it to the less-than-mature hand tracking other augmented reality companies are using.
Current apps range from virtual reality games where you shoot robots to guides for putting together Legos. A big test in the augmented reality world right now is the lag in an image. If a virtual version of a clock I am fixing is plastered over the real clock, does it stay in place on top of the real clock when I quickly move my head? Epson’s glasses had a slight lag before the virtual image popped back into place.
Augmented reality is not ready for consumers yet. But for enterprise and industrial applications, the BT-200 is a solid choice. Its screen looks nice, it pulls up information in a timely manner and in your free time you have your pick of killer robot games.