Augmented Reality or Virtual Reality – which is our Future?

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two trending technologies of 2017. Nearly all major companies have entered the race for a market share in AR and VR. Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Samsung are some of the leading companies competing to launch AR and VR devices in the market. While gaming is a popular application, several players in the AR and VR space are exploring a multitude of technology segments such as healthcare, social networking, military, automobile and more to create a niche position for themselves.

An analysis of patents filed in these two domains as per INPADOC families shows that there are at least 16,000 IP assets (granted patents and pending applications) filed in VR and 12,000 IP assets in AR. While these are set to change the future course of human life, let’s understand the subtle difference between these two technologies. Augmented Reality (AR) superimposes or overlays virtual information, characters or objects over real-world environment, similar to Pokemon Go. Virtual Reality (VR) places a user in a virtual environment, enabling interaction within the 3D world for a realistic experience.

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Microsoft opens window to regulated diet

Whether it is AR or VR, Microsoft holds the largest number of IP assets in both technology segments. The tech-giant seems quite focused on developing and bringing AR devices into the market across industry applications. Microsoft holds more than 1,000 IP assets which at least mention an application for Augmented Reality; out of these, 300 IP assets discuss AR in detail. Microsoft has already launched HoloLens, a pair of augmented reality glasses that augments a hologram over a real world environment.

Microsoft is now reportedly developing AR glasses for the healthcare industry. Powered by a recently granted patent US 9646511 titled “Wearable food nutrition feedback system”, Microsoft discloses a method which allows an AR glass to detect food items in its field of view and generate alerts or suggestions based on a user’s customized nutrition requirements, general nutrition information, track food consumption and indulge in social interactions, thus, helping a user manage everyday diet.

patent US9646511 illustrating AR glasses that help a user regulate food consumption

patent US9646511 illustrating AR glasses that help a user regulate food consumption

Further, these smart glasses come with a microphone and gesture recognition circuitry to track or monitor a user’s actions such as movement of a food morsel towards the mouth, sound of chewing, etc. It also monitors the user’s current location using GPS and provides restaurant reviews and food reviews. The user also receives alerts or notifications that are displayed on top of the food item.

Microsoft also revealed a prototype of AR glasses that look like a normal pair of thick-framed glasses. However, it comes with advantages such as offering full color high resolution images, coupled with user vision correction and high-quality imagery that are capable of true per-pixel focal control.

Google prefers eye for detail

Google’s patent filing trend and announced product line up gives a picture of Google’s inclination to develop VR devices instead of AR. The company has about 300 IP assets related to VR devices alone; it’s R&D focus on enhancing the Daydream VR headset is a case in point.

In 2014, Google announced Project Tango, which is reported to be a mobile application or software platform that converts the real world view into a 3D AR view. Tango can be leveraged for 3D mapping, physical space measurement, and environmental recognition.

In 2014, Google also expressed interest towards developing smart contact lenses that augment a user’s health information such as eye’s hydration level, blood alcohol, blood oxygen or glucose level. During the Google I/O 2017, the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai showcased the much spoken about Google Lens, which is expected to process images captured by a smartphone and augment customized information. Take for instance a situation where a user leverages the lens to capture the image of a restaurant. The lens then projects information about the restaurant, reviews, etc. An interesting feature that the Google Lens is expected to include is its ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Will this in the future enable in-the-eye browsing?! It’s a technology to follow closely.

Samsung’s dynamic view of the world

At a time when Samsung’s VR devices are catching up with customer frenzy, the company is exploring avenues in manufacturing AR devices too. It has embedded AR features in the Samsung Galaxy S8, and has announced four new projects in AR and VR – Monitorless in AR technology and, VuildUs, Relumino, and TraVer in the VR space.

Fig 3 of patent application US20020044152 showing menu to adjust transparency of virtual information

Fig 3 of patent application US20020044152 showing menu to adjust transparency of virtual information.

Samsung owns about 300 IP assets that are strongly related to AR devices. One interesting patent application US20170011557 discloses Samsung’s concept of electro-chromic smart glasses that can switch between AR view, VR view or Mixed Reality (MR) view. A user can manually switch among these three views or allow the glasses to automatically select the best display method. These glasses can also be connected with a smartphone or a computer.

However, this patent application is currently facing rejections against patent applications US20150153571 and US20020044152. Patent application US20020044152 is closely related to US20170011557, disclosing integration of virtual information over real-world images. US20020044152 also discloses that transparency of the virtual information can be varied based on user’s focus or commands. The patent application US20150153571 also discloses an AR display that includes translucent, transparent, or semi-transparent components to adjust level of transparency.

Further, a video showcased by Samsung Newsroom unveils smart glasses whose transparency is adjusted based on the selected view i.e. AR, VR or MR.

Disney set to make magic of entertainment

All out to enhance entertainment, Disney is showing signs to develop AR devices over VR. Reports suggest that Disney is looking to implement AR devices in its amusement parks. It has collaborated with Magic Leap for AR devices. A recently published patent application of Disney, US20170097676, discloses a projector that will augment a virtual view comprising virtual objects in a real-world. A user is provided with AR controls to interact with virtual objects.

Fig 3 of patent application US20170097676 illustrates a user controlling virtual objects (341b)

Fig 3 of patent application US20170097676 illustrates a user controlling virtual objects.

Take a virtual vacation with Facebook friends

Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg may be attracted by VR devices. But media reports suggest otherwise. In April this year, Facebook declared that it will work on the AR platform and mentioned its work towards developing AR apps during the F8.

But that doesn’t mean it has abandoned VR. Facebook recently launched a VR app called ‘Facebook Spaces’ that allows users to connect with friends in a totally immersive environment using the Oculus Rift. User can roam around with friends during a virtual tour, engage in conversations and create virtual characters and objects.

Further, Instagram has included an additional feature called Face Filters that augments virtual objects on a live video or photograph.

Wal-Mart looks at real-time AR assist

Walmart entered the fray of developing IP around VR and AR in 2012 and owns 20 IP assets in this space. In March, Wal-Mart was awarded with a patent US9589288 that discloses an augment reality unit through which a user can ask for a product or item assistance. Further, a retail store server can track whether the user purchased the product under consideration.

The current R&D trends suggest that while VR devices are more popular, it is Augmented Reality that will shape the immediate future in immersive experiences. This can be attributed to its simplicity of use considering it can be leveraged over a smartphone or tablet, unlike VR which requires a device. With the activity curve setting off on an upward curve, leadership in this space is likely to be skewed between IP ownership and market share for the next few years at least.

(Featured image is only for representational purpose and has been sourced from https://www.flickr.com/photos/clankennedy/13470471505)

Vishal Kapoor
Vishal Kapoor

Vishal is a patent analyst with a flair for robotics, microcontrollers, microprocessors and FPGA. He enjoys astrophysics and assembling self-assigned electronics projects.


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