Addressing Focal Rivalry in AR key to improving the digital workplace

PwC’s recent report titled ‘Seeing is believing’, forecasted that Augmented Reality (AR) is set to add more than $1 trillion to the global economy and £62.5bn to the UK economy in the next decade

Directly enhancing over four hundred thousand jobs in the UK across critical industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, energy and retail, AR has the potential to fundamentally change the way many of us live and work, bringing real and virtual worlds together in the same space. 

Despite there being a market being primed for growth, AR’s potential is limited unless one fundamental optical issue is resolved. A recent report from specialist AR/VR industry analysts at Greenlight Insights concluded that ‘focal rivalry’ is negatively impacting 95% of all current AR applications. 

Although you would be forgiven for not knowing this optical term, anyone who has worn an AR headset will recognise that our eyes cannot naturally integrate the real and the virtual objects into a genuine mixed reality. Today’s AR headsets overlay virtual content over a fixed focal plane. Human eyes are not able to focus on both real and virtual rendered objects that are intended to appear in close proximity to one another because of the ‘focal rivalry’ that exists between real and virtual.

This prevents us from placing virtual content accurately into the real world and greatly diminishes our ability to execute any task that requires a high degree of accuracy. If this issue was addressed, we would unleash a revolution in sight that would enable us to unlock the true potential of this technology and radically transform the way we work. 

Focal rivalry restricts tasks requiring a high degree of accuracy

Focal rivalry manifests itself when you want to integrate real and virtual content believably and accurately together. Currently you can focus on one, or the other, but not both. This issue affects both the believability and accuracy for users who want real and virtual content to be viewed together. 

study conducted by the University of Pisa exploring how focal rivalry affects people’s performance when using AR to complete precision tasks has found that accomplishing an AR-assisted tasks where content is within two meters (about 6 feet) of the person and requires a high level of precision is not feasible with existing technology. This makes it difficult for surgeons – for example – to follow digital guides for incisions and suggests that in its current state, the technology is not suitable for high precision tasks.

Dynamic optical interfaces at the heart of the solution

In the race to push the limits of software and computer hardware, manufacturers of HMDs have made great leaps forward in improving the AR experience. Yet for the industry to advance, special attention needs to be placed on driving innovation in the area of the optical interface. The only way we can currently mix real and virtual content accurately and believably is with a dynamic optical interface solution.

Analysts from Greenlight Insights have reviewed all the key dynamic focus solution technologies currently in development for the AR sector, comparing their relative performance and likely time to market. An extensive comparison concluded that dynamic lens systems that can change the focal planes offer the best combination of addressing this issue. The analysts have also predicted the introduction of an optical interface will help unlock an additional $10 billion in spending on enterprise AR applications by 2026.

Utilising the optical interface to solve focal rivalry is the secret to truly breaking new ground. In doing so we can elevate the user experience of immersive devices making them incredibly useful in enterprise scenarios and our daily lives. Once we do this, we will have a true revolution in sight.

About the Author

John Kennedy is CEO of Adlens, the company pioneering the development of lenses that change focus like the human eye – enhancing vision in AR/XR, VR, and eyewear. Adlens believes that optical technologies will play a key role in helping to create a truly breakthrough mixed reality product that will have comparable consumer impact to the iPhone. An engineer by training, he’s built his experience in technology and fast-growth consumer businesses.

Featured image: ©Tran