While Google Glass has gotten a lot of press lately for doing augmented reality for consumers, there’s a great deal of other applications that require an augmentation of human vision.
One such application is welding: a bright light sits in front of the welder as high energy flame or electricity is used to melt molten metal in order to glue together two pieces of metal. Obviously, it’s very hard to see the point of welding, even with the darkened lens of the protective welding helmet; but with computer-aided-vision it’s possible to make the weld points highly visible and easily accessed by the welder.
Add on post-processing technology to the augmented reality interface that can identify the welding apparatus, the weld point, and the molten metal and an assist-display can be added that could help the welder keep the joint in view using temperatures and best-fit scenarios to make sure that it welds properly. In fact, with the right sort of equipment, the heat emanating from the joint could be used to determine if the weld would hold after it was completed by watching thermal dissipation.
This is what the EyeTap research team at the University of Toronto is going for with their HDR imaging augmented reality welding helmet (presented at Siggraph2012):
Our “WeldCam HDRchitecture” (abbreviated “HDRchitecture”) system uses one or more cameras, and optional active illumination systems, that can be used by welding schools and professionals to inspect welding in real-time. We present HDRchitecture as either a fixed camera system (e.g. for use on a tripod), or as a stereo EyeTap cybernetic welding helmet that records and streams live video from a welding booth to students or observers, nearby or remote. By capturing over a dynamic range of more than a million to one, we can see details that cannot be seen by the human eye or any currently existing commercially available cameras.
Yes, the wearable helmet prototype looks like something out of a science fiction horror (that’s the nature of cameras and a lack of a face) but it’s better that cameras are mere inches away from that powerful blast of heat and not an actual human face.
As part of the demonstration video, it’s shown that this HDR technology could even be used in everyday situations to enhance vision in bright light situations and even in dim light. No doubt, as processors and video cameras get even smaller, Google Glass may become a potential secondary technology to use this same sort of concept. I imagine that we might even see low-light goggles that function as glasses (or visors) instead of heavy over-the-face bulk wear if this sort of technology can be properly miniaturized.
The technology behind these welding goggles is actually quite impressive and it has a lot of applications beyond welding. Especially the HDR augmented-reality enhanced vision portion, which could be useful for miners, divers, and even rescue workers such as fire fighters by allowing the enhancement of environments that are murky, filled with smoke, or too bright to see in. I especially see this being useful right now in these professions because they already wear bulky equipment that potentially covers their faces and the encumbrance of the current technology would not be a burden to them.
In the consumer sector, we probably won’t be seeing a technology quite like this except in the fashion of augmented reality via the Google Glass project or the Kinect Glasses from Microsoft (situated in eyewear) that will be less likely to augment vision to see better, but more to augment vision to gather and display metadata. However, as I said above, there are definite applications to help people see better in the dark, or even while driving to act similar to the prism in the rear view mirror to reduce glare and increase visual acuity.