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6 June 2018
Reading time: 4 minutes

Assisted Reality – Augmented Reality’s poor relation?

A person in need will find a way. As it turns out sometimes even the most advanced solutions need a “lightweight” version. We can safely assume this is the case of Assisted Reality, which delivers 2D content (images, text or videos) to users instead of immersive 3D graphics. This simpler solution, however, is exactly what countless companies asked for.

A new type of “smartglasses”, such as RealWear’s HMT-1, are needed in order to receive additional information on top of the surrounding environment. The parenthesis there was used on purpose, because they are not exactly “glasses” but rather a tablet mounted on a users’s head using a headband (thus the name: HMT – Head Mounted Tablet). It is important to note that the headband itself is an integral element of the hardware, as it encloses all electronics within it.

RealWear HMT-1

The device itself is worth attention and spending a few moments with it. Obviously the display used in it is very small and thus useless for displaying 3D graphics, which was what we were used to in case of augmented reality. As it turns out though, 3D models are not that important to many companies or their employees. Quite often the lack of 3D perspective in organizations is much more comfortable than actually having it. The whole concept of the device and the way to present information to the user is completely different than the one shown by, for example, applications for Microsoft’s Hololens, which allow us to add high-quality content to the actual environment surrounding us. Surprisingly, HMT’s small screen can be efficiently used to present the most important information about a machine he is working on in interesting and brief form, including elements such as:

  • operational parameters,
  • simple text instructions enhanced with pictures,
  • instructional videos,
  • PDF documentation in a very interesting and condensed form.

If you thought the part about PDF files is a joke, please allow us to get you out of the dark, although initially we too assumed it was a hilarious idea. How such a small screen can display a page of text or a drawing in a PDF file? Well, it turns out it can! The device ships with a built-in document/image viewer, which allows us to magnify a given page or image. It utilizes head motion tracking for the purpose of navigating the zoomed-in screen. It is also possible to lock the current view, allowing the user to take a closer look at a given fragment.

It is worth to mention one of the most important features here: The device is completely voice-controlled. There are a few pre-defined system commands, but the way of interacting with the device could be phrased like this: “You can say aloud anything you see on the screen and it will be clicked.” And it actually WORKS!

Key facts about the device also include 8-12 hours of battery life, dust- and waterproof certification, capability to withstand being dropped from approximately 1m height. There is also an ATEX-certified version for hazardous areas.

But this was supposed to be all about Assisted Reality…

For our partner, PTC, we created a PoC of a solution which utilizes HMT-1 as dedicated hardware and ThingWorx Studio as software responsible for creating content. The project was first showcased during PTC Sales Kick-off 2017 at the Bahamas.

The external monitor is showing a stream from the HMT-1’s screen.

PTC has first officially published the beta version of Assisted Reality in march 2018. A new, dedicated project type has been added to ThingWorx Studio – EyeWear 2D. Although its palette of functionalities (widgets) is somewhat limited at the moment, especially in comparison to other mobile devices, it allows us to create our new application (“experience) in a codeless manner – through “clicking” only. Within minutes users can run the “experience” using the ThingWorx View app installed on HMT-1.

There are a couple of things to consider:

    • Display placement – everyone should spend some time to get this right, especially initially. Main rules are:
    • The screen should not obscure your line of sight. It should be placed rather beneath or over it, as to not block your field of view
    • The display should be mounted by your leading eye – it can be quickly re-mounted.
    • The display should be as close to the eye as possible to allow viewing content in a reasonable area and size.
    • The device and accompanying software are supposed to be an assistant. User experience and the concept of “glanceability” are very important – you do not need to see the screen the whole time, but rather glance at it if needed to quickly acquire condensed information. Information itself should be given in a condense, clear and easily readable form. The screen should not be overloaded with information.

The concept of Assisted Reality itself is a step back compared to Augmented Reality. However, this step back brings huge possibilities of supporting humans in performing their daily activities. Many organizations were waiting for this step back.

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