Airglass Software Can Let You Experience Virtual Reality Without Using Headsets
You soon might not need a headset to use virtual reality (VR). Airglass is a new type of software that could replace VR for meetings. It’s part of a growing number of solutions meant to give you a VR experience without buying hardware.
“Many headsets today are bulky, so for you to do everyday tasks in them would be impossible and uncomfortable,” tech analyst Bob Bilbruck, the CEO of the consulting firm Captjur told Lifewire in an email interview. “Computing power is also an issue and thus why many of these systems still have to interact with your phone to work probably and give a good degree of usability today.”
VR, no headset required
Airglass is meant to mimic VR by using software to convert your desktop into a transparent, glass-like layer and create the illusion of seeing beyond the display screen. The company behind Airglass, Mobeus, claims the app removes the need to minimise, move and restore windows, to let different people meet and work simultaneously.
“We deliberately ignored the ‘Hollywood Squares’ design used on other meeting platforms and envisioned a connection product from the ground up,” Richie Etwaru, the co-founder of Mobeus, said in a news release. “The outcome feels more natural, more connected, more human, which felt like the locus for a much-needed reset between humans and machines.”
Airglass offers a few neat tricks similar to what you get with some VR software packages. For example, the Illustration Tool lets you use your mouse cursor as a collaborative pen in meetings. The digital ink can be used for circling, underlining, and scribbling on anything that is on the presented screen.
Another option to access virtual reality without a headset is through a monitor. Some high-end displays offer 3D views that mimic the look of virtual reality. Take, for instance, Dimenco’s SR-Pro-Display, which offers 3D immersion via proprietary image processing technologies, eye-tracking capabilities, and special lenticular lenses. Unfortunately, this monitor currently costs around USD 10,000.
Will VR headsets get smaller?
Manufacturers of VR gear are seeking ways to shrink or eliminate bulky headsets. Bilbruck said that most of the computing power in headsets could eventually be moved to the cloud.
Many headsets today are bulky, so for you to do everyday tasks in them would be impossible and uncomfortable.
Future headsets “will be powered by more software and firmware, and then when you add AI on top of this, computing massive data sets, the power of the VR gets greater and greater—also usability will increase, and phones will be unnecessary,” he added.
Susan Kent, the global R&D lab director in 3M’s Display Materials and Systems Division, said in an email interview with Lifewire that heavy and bulky headsets had been a “major barrier” to user adoption of the technology. “We’ve heard people say it looks like a shoe box on your face,” she added.
3M’s work with pancake lenses has allowed headset makers to reduce its size by 50 percent and attain much better image resolution, Kent said. “It’s like moving from a CRT to an LCD TV,” she added. “There’s no going back once people use it.”
Kent pointed out that before pancake lenses, VR headset makers were stuck using Fresnel lens technology, which was popularised in the 1800s and helped lighthouses shine brighter for ships at sea. Using a Fresnel lens in headsets required a significant distance from users’ eyes to the lens, which added weight and size.
While 3M did not invent pancake lenses, “we were the first company to successfully demonstrate the viability of pancake lenses in VR headsets by combining it with our patented reflective polariser technology,” Kent said.
One tiny VR headset that uses pancake lenses, the quarter-pound Bigscreen Beyond, was recently announced. The company calls the product “the world’s smallest VR headset,” and it features OLED displays. However, the Beyond needs to be hooked to a computer, unlike standalone headsets like the Meta Quest 2, and you’ll also need to scan your face via an app to order a custom-fit device.
If the trend towards shrinking headsets is any guide, the future of VR may lie in hardware that you barely feel. We’re waiting to see what Apple produces with its highly anticipated mixed-reality headset.
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