A revolution is coming, Augmented Reality (AR) technologies and applications are slowly opening the doors into the most immersive phase of computing history, and this market is primed for growth. The recent ‘Seeing is Believing’ report by PwC has forecasted that AR technologies will add over $1 trillion to the global economy by 2030. Deploying AR technology is already showing significant improvements in business productivity. Companies like Boeing are testing AR applications to help technicians with accessing complicated instructions while installing electrical aircraft wiring. The initial Boeing tests have shown a 30 percent reduction in time spent doing the job. However, we are unlikely to experience the full potential of AR’s transformational impact unless a fundamental optical issue is resolved.

Specialist VR/AR analysts from Greenlight Insights have recently published a report that highlights a major opportunity for the AR industry. Human eyes are not able to focus on both real and virtual rendered objects that are intended to appear near one another because of the ‘focal rivalry’ that exists between real and virtual objects.

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Overcoming this obscure, but a crucial optical phenomenon is a key to unlocking genuine mixed reality. It not only impacts the ability to perform precision-guided tasks up close but also to place virtual content accurately in the real world. Today’s AR smart glasses overlay virtual content at a fixed focal plane, but if we overcome focal rivalry, we can create genuinely mixed realities where real and virtual content can exist in harmony opening up a world of possibilities.

According to the Greenlight Insights report, at least 95 percent of contemporary enterprise AR applications would see an immediate tangible benefit if this issue was resolved. The good news is that there are solutions being developed right now that can address this problem and help AR deliver on its promise to revolutionize the modern workplace and potentially the way we live.

Addressing focal rivalry will enable enterprise users to execute tasks with high precision

Focal rivalry manifests itself when we are looking at objects through AR systems. Our eyes must choose between seeing either virtual or real content clearly; we can’t focus on both. At a consumer level, this can make AR seem artificial; however, when we consider this issue in an enterprise scenario, it drives a significant limitation for AR to be used as a serious tool.

 A recent study conducted by The University of Pisa explored how focal rivalry impacts people’s performance when using AR to complete precision tasks where content is within two meters (about 6 feet) of the person. It found that participants were less accurate and became more tired when completing a task using an AR device, compared to the naked eye.

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The solution lies in the science of sight

The solutions applied to these problems so far have been digital: the addition of more pixels or the application of even more powerful software. This will be a part of the solution, but it will not be enough alone, because this problem is not only digital. In fact, this problem is very much human, because at its root lies the science of sight.

There are 23 visual cues that make up our perception of 3D space in the real world. All of these visual cues need to be engaged by an AR system to deliver truly immersive, believable and useful experiences. Upgrading software and computer hardware will help us engage eighteen visual cues, and the remaining five require a dynamic optical interface that can accurately integrate digital objects in the real world.

Analysts from Greenlight Insights have reviewed the critical dynamic focus solution technologies currently in development for the AR sector, including light field displays, liquid crystal lenses, and dynamic fluid lenses. An extensive comparison that included the performance and reasonable time to market concluded that dynamic lens systems can change the focal planes offer the best solution to addressing this issue. The report also forecasted that integrating such a solution would help unlock an additional $10 billion in spending on enterprise AR applications by 2026.

 A revolution in sight

AR is starting to transform the modern workplace, but its true potential could be more significant still. In a race to push the limits of software and computer hardware, AR device manufacturers should not forget the importance of the optical interface, a largely underrepresented area of innovation, and while the devices continue to improve, this means some fundamental opportunities remain untapped.

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Dynamic lens systems, paired with ongoing advances in digital technology, could help overcome eye strain and nausea and bring the real and virtual worlds together seamlessly. The combination of these technologies would make AR experiences more immersive, comfortable, and useful – removing many of the barriers that restrict the market growth.

In the future, all but the cheapest of AR headsets will have some form of a dynamic optical interface built-in. Once this happens, we will unleash a raft of enterprise opportunities and revolutionize the way we see, experience and interact with the world around us.