Steve Mann, the “father of wearable computing,” introduces new augmented reality glasses

Steve Mann, the “father of wearable computing,” introduces new augmented reality glasses

Steve Mann, known as the father of wearable computing, says augmented reality (AR) will only find success if we can make the experience natural for users.

Mann hit the stage yesterday at We Are Wearables, the biggest wearables meetup in the world. With AR and virtual reality (VR) dominating tech headlines—Facebook’s $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift, Google’s $542 million spend into Magic Leap, Microsoft’s HoloLens—the days of widespread digital glasses are coming.

Hosted at MaRS, the event also featured the Canadian premiere of Meta, AR eyewear that uses a gesture-based holographic user interface.

If you missed the event, here are some key takeaways.

Augmented reality needs be “natural”

Mann said that technology must balance on three axes—the physical, the informative and the human. By blending all three seamlessly, you can create an experience for users that does not take them out of the physical world but adds layers of customization.

“A lot of technology fails to be a natural extension of the human body, or what I call a reality user interface or a natural user interface,” Mann explained to the audience. “Technology that does not balance the axes is a technology destined to fail.”

Mann’s advice for aspiring AR inventors? “Have fun, believe in what you build, and build a product that you want to have and you want others to have. Don’t make it for investors.”

Difference between augmented and virtual reality

The words are often used interchangeably but the two are fundamentally different. AR is distinguished from VR in that it mediates the real world. VR, on the other hand, shuts out the real world. “Virtual reality immerses us in the fantastical because the rules of the world don’t apply,” said Helen Papagiannis, AR specialist and one of the panellists at the meetup.

What the AR can do is let you mediate your real-world experience. Todd Revolt, director of strategic alliance at Meta, presented the different applications for the new eyewear, which included present and remote collaboration between people, 3D creation and visualization, and information panels (or what he called, “the computer screen of tomorrow”). Much of the talk around the two is that AR will find success in tools, while VR will thrive in gaming.

Surveillance and sousveillance

When you talk about digital eyeglasses, you’ll inevitably delve into the privacy debate. Surveillance, Mann says, is about organizations observing people. Think stores and public cameras. What wearable technologies do is give control to individuals to observe those in authority (sousveillance). Boiled down to today’s terms, the Internet of Things (IoT) is surveillance and wearables are sousveillance. The merger of the two, veillance, will transform society. While you may be being watched, you can now do your own watching.

Catch up on the rest of the conversation using the hashtag #WWTO or check out the Storify below.

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