Intel’s New AR Prototype Uses Retinal Projection and Looks Cool Doing It

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Intel has revealed a new augmented reality prototype called Vaunt. Like many other AR concepts we’ve seen, Vaunt is able to overlay digital information with the physical world. Unlike other concepts we’ve seen, it actually looks…cool.

According to a report published by The Verge, Vaunt was created by Intel’s experimental New Devices Group. The stylish frames look surprisingly sleek and unobtrusive when worn while still packing a respectable arsenal of technology.

Weighing in at 50 grams — which is just above your average pair of glasses — Vaunt comes equipped with customized lenses and two different hardware suites built into each stem of the spectacles. The power supply, processor, bluetooth gear and other necessary chips and sensors are housed in both stems evenly for balanced weight distribution. But the most important tech for these AR spectacles is the laser.

Vaunt’s simple and sleek appearance is matched by a very straightforward functionality. Its sole purpose is to sync with your smartphone to pull and project notifications via laser directly into the retina of your right eye. This display is very basic and monochromatic (red), but it does have a few tricks up its sleeve as well.

The retina projection for Vaunt is carried out by VCSEL laser. This is the same exact laser that was recently incorporated by Apple into its new iPhone X. On the X, the VCSEL is used to scan your face and unlock your phone. On the Vaunt, its being used to project a simple display directly into your eye.

This unique approach provides two major upsides to Vaunt users. The first is that the display is almost completely undetectable to anyone but you. That means friends and coworkers won’t be able to tell you’ve started reading a text message in the middle of a conversation.

The second upshot is that the Vaunt’s display will also be undetectable by you yourself unless you turn your eye to the bottom right corner of the lens. The key to creating this effect is a holographic reflector embedded in the right lens that bounces and bends the laser’s projection at just the right angle to be distinguishable.

Jerry Bautista, the lead for the team building wearable devices at Intel’s NDG, explained this concept to The Verge’s Dieter Bohn in more detail:

“We had to integrate very, very power-efficient light sources, MEMS devices for actually painting an image. We use a holographic grading embedded into the lens to reflect the correct wavelengths back to your eye. The image is called retinal projection, so the image is actually ‘painted’ into the back of your retina.”

Vaunt is not the first AR headset to dabble in retinal projection. A certain multi-billion dollar unicorn called Magic Leap is also experimenting with the same technology. The big difference, however, is that Vaunt’s goals are much simpler and Intel is actually letting people try its prototype out for themselves.

There’s no release date or price set for Vaunt just yet, although The Verge is reporting that developer kits will be sent out “soon.”

What do you think? Is Vaunt too simplistic in what it offers? Or is it a good balance between power and aesthetics? Let us know in the comments below.

Image Credits: The Verge, Vjeran Pavic

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