Lenses For DIY Augmented Reality Will Get A Bit Less Unobtainable

You may remember that earlier this year Leap Motion revealed Project North Star, a kind of open-source reference design for an Augmented Reality (AR) headset. While it’s not destined to make high scores in the fashion department, it aims to be hacker-friendly and boasts a large field of view. There’s also an attractive element of “what you see is what you get” when it comes to the displays and optical design, which is a good thing for hackability. Instead of everything residing in a black box, the system uses two forward-facing displays (one for each eye) whose images are bounced off curved reflective lenses. These are essentially semitransparent mirrors which focus the images properly while also allowing the wearer to see both the displays and the outside world at the same time. This co-existence of both virtual and real-world visuals are a hallmark of Augmented Reality.

A serious setback to the aspiring AR hacker has been the fact that while the design is open, the lenses absolutely are not off the shelf components. [Smart Prototyping] aims to change that, and recently announced in a blog post that they will be offering Project North Star-compatible reflective lenses. They’re in the final stages of approving manufacture, and listed pre-orders for the lenses in their store along with downloadable 3D models for frames.

When Leap Motion first announced their open-source AR headset, we examined the intruiguing specifications and the design has since been published to GitHub.  At the time, we did note that the only option for the special lenses seemed to be to CNC them and then spring for a custom reflective coating.

If the lenses become affordable and mass-produced, that would make the design much more accessible. In addition, anyone wanting to do their own experiments with near-eye displays or HUDs would be able to use the frame and lenses as a basis for their own work, and that’s wonderful.

13 thoughts on “Lenses For DIY Augmented Reality Will Get A Bit Less Unobtainable

    1. As in a transparent AMOLED disaplay? If so: No. No it would not be a better solution. Or even a viable one. If I’m mistaken about the meaning of TAMOLED, please enlighten me. :)

    2. If you mean as a screen in front of your eyes, definitely not. Though as a screen to use in combination with those lens or similar maybe. Test it by bringing you phone screen right up to an eye and see how close you can get before you can’t focus on it anymore.

      Now a bendy transparent screen might make a good source of pixels to use the mirror lens trick and get better images with as the bend potentially puts more pixels in similar footprint and could possibly be used to increase the effective pixel count in key areas. But I don’t really think a higher pixel count is all that essential – if you have ever used a true HD projector you can see that 720p for example gives good text legibility through a range of screen and text sizes, more than that can be nice of course, but significantly diminishing returns once you get into the ‘HD’ pixel counts.

      Personally I think normal LCD backlit in part by the ambient light – working similar to a transflective screen – using the ambient to reduce the need for high power backlight and making the display adapt as the ambient light changes more passively would be a nice improvement to the stock design.
      If you crank the backlight up on a screen like that and sit in a darkish room the two way mirror trick means you can’t see through it at all, so adaptive lighting is a must.

  1. Awesome! I want a pair, I ran aground of the unavailability of this kind of part recently. I leered long and hard at the broken Hololens at work, wondering if it was fair game or up for RMA. I was not impressed by the FOV on it, though. It still might mysteriously “disappear” over the weekend..

    I’m fine looking like a glasshole with a weird-looking thing on my head for a while; that’s how fashion works. Do you think the first glasses wearers weren’t ridiculous in the eyes of their peers? But eventually enough people will try it, a celebrity will be caught in one, and we’ll adjust our expectations and start considering it cool, perhaps even a statement. It’ll happen eventually. I’d love to see a cyberpunk runway show where each model is wearing a different bespoke HMD.

    1. “Do you think the first glasses wearers weren’t ridiculous in the eyes of their peers?”

      Fashion can be a big hindrance in the early adopter phase of a product, and right now AR/VR needs all the help it can. It has enough obstacles as it is.

  2. Not just approving manufacture. That’s done. I should have at least 200 sets of lenses this week. Display driver boards are being fabbed now and, IF the original design works, Smart Prototyping will have 100 of them in the second week of January. A deal has already been negotiated with BOE and I’ll have enough for 150 headsets as soon as that driver board is validated. Bring your own Leap Motion Controller for hand tracking, and add a Structure Core, Zed Mini, RealSense, webcam and fiducial markers, Vive tracker, or whatever, for your 6DOF tracking / VIO implementation. Can’t wait to see other people’s driver board designs that incorporate some of those capabilities. We’re working on one, too, but want to get something out the door to get people started. :D Thanks for the write-up!

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