What Are Augmented Reality Glasses?

Cindy Quarters

Augmented reality glasses have the ability to display computer-generated information. This display can take different forms, including both realistic images and data displays. The idea is to provide the user with information that may be game-related, tied to the immediate environment or task, or is otherwise useful, such as email or short electronic messages.

Augemented reality glasses use apps similar to those commonly used on smart phones.
Augemented reality glasses use apps similar to those commonly used on smart phones.

Many people may be familiar with the concept of virtual reality, and be under the impression that augmented reality glasses work in a similar fashion. The basic concept of the two differs, however, in that virtual reality glasses, hoods or other devices seek to completely replace the real world with an artificial one. The user then interacts with the virtual world. Augmented reality glasses allow the user to view the real world but they add to it in some way.

As of the end of 2011 augmented reality glasses have extremely limited commercial applications for the average user. In most cases such glasses are used to enhance video game play, but to a much lesser extent than is done with virtual reality games. Certain augmented characters, data or scenes may appear, but they are overlaid onto reality instead of replacing it.

There are some types of augmented reality glasses with very specific applications. One example of this is those used by the military, where a special readout is mounted onto glasses to provide hands-free data directly to leaders in battle. There are also various other specialized applications, including medical data readouts and security monitoring. Most are still in development at the end of 2011.

Ideally, people will eventually be able to use augmented reality glasses to view data that is relevant to their current needs. This would include such information as sale data in a shopping mall, the layout of a store that the person is already in, or product information for items a customer is viewing. Augmented reality glasses would use apps similar to those commonly used by cell phones. Different apps would be used for different situations.

Some types of glasses have been commonly available since at least 2009, and are often marketed as augmented reality glasses. What these glasses normally do, however, is to immerse the viewer in a complete movie viewing experience. They cover reality, they don’t enhance it. They don’t provide the wearer with any additional information or add computer-generated elements to what the user sees.

As these glasses limit what the wearer sees, these are sometimes sold as virtual reality (VR) glasses, which is also incorrect. There is no interaction between the user and the virtual reality environment, which is an essential component of VR. These glasses are more like a wearable theater than anything else.

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