UPDATED 14:00 EDT / MAY 29 2019

EMERGING TECH

Varjo adds extra ‘reality’ to augmented reality with new XR-1 photorealistic headset

Finnish hardware manufacturer Varjo Technologies Oy today announced the upcoming release of its next high-fidelity augmented reality headset, the XR-1 Developer Edition.

This release, announced at the Augmented World Expo in Santa Clara, follows Varjo’s launch of an extremely powerful virtual reality headset, with a price tag of $6,000, in February with the VR-1. The new release upgrades its capabilities into the realm of mixed reality, with the goal of making the virtual indistinguishable from reality itself.

“XR-1 brings all the convenience of seeing your body as well as the real world around you and being able to look at your colleagues while designing a virtual object or environment,” said Urho Konttori, Varjo’s co-founder and chief product officer.

According to Konttori, the XR-1 is the world’s only headset capable of delivering photorealistic image quality with integrated eye tracking using what is called “Hard AR.” That capability is described as a method of making it impossible to tell the difference between AR elements and real objects seen by the user of the goggles.

That differentiates the XR-1 from products such as the Microsoft HoloLens technology that projects transparent, or “ghostly,” objects over the vision of the viewer.

Using the high-resolution front-plate display of the VR-1 and dual 12-megapixel front-facing cameras, the XR-1 makes photorealism possible. The cameras work to digitize the world and create a wide angle of view virtual environment while being worn and then computer generated graphics are projected onto that world with the same fidelity as visible objects.

With this technology, virtual objects will appear just as real as any other objects, cast appropriate shadows and even illuminate themselves according to their surroundings. Black objects will appear truly black, solid objects appear actually opaque and transparent objects will refract light from the real world behind them.

“The XR-1 can show mixed reality with true-to-life fidelity you can only achieve using video-pass-through,” said Konttori. “Lifelike mixed reality is quite literally impossible to achieve with optical-see-through systems like HoloLens.”

Car manufacturer Volvo Group partnered with Varjo in order to use its technology to help better design and understand its cars. With this hardware, engineers can test drive virtual car designs on the road. According to Varjo, Volvo Cars has been using XR-1 prototypes since the summer of 2018.

Engineers at Volvo have been driving real cars while wearing the XR-1 headset. This allows them to add photorealistic virtual elements in the middle of test drives in order to create scenarios — such as new parts of the car, dashboard elements and changes to the windshield.

With the XR-1, it’s also possible to add virtual automobiles and road hazards such as a virtual moose to the road for realism. Because these elements are virtual, and not real, it means that when a safety feature or the user fails to avoid other cars or hazards, there is no danger. Volvo said that has led to faster turnaround for testing and ultimately safer cars.

“With Varjo XR-1, we can start evaluating designs and technologies while they are literally still on the drawing board,” said Henrik Green, chief technology officer at Volvo Cars. “Instead of the usual static way of evaluating new products and ideas, we can test concepts on the road immediately. This approach offers considerable potential cost savings by clearing bottlenecks much earlier in the design and development process.”

Further details on the XR-1, how it compares to the VR-1 and visual demonstrations of what it looks like to users are available on Varjo’s website.

The company released no details on how much the headset will cost, but it could be expensive, if the VR-1’s $5,995 price tag is any indication.

Photo: Varjo

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