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Head-mounted display puts screen at eye level

By Mark Baard
April 25, 2011

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Prototypes
Recently, I was excited to tell you about the augmented reality app that smartphone users can employ to spy computer-generated aliens around Boston during the Cyberarts Festival this month.

Too bad that most of us will be able to see the critters only on our smartphone screens, however.

That’s because manufacturers of consumer electronics have yet to produce a wearable heads-up display that anyone could wear while strolling along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway. But the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (www.ipms.fraunhofer.de) is working on that.

Next month, Fraunhofer will present at a conference its functional microdisplay, which is similar to one I described in this column a couple of years ago. The demo unit is a head-mounted display whose hardware is small enough to incorporate in a pair of eyeglasses — almost.

Head-mounted display, or HMD, utilizes the same technology that pilots and soldiers use to read data that are projected by a computer onto glass or onto screens showing camera views of their surroundings.

The Fraunhofer HMD incorporates organic light-emitting diode (OLED) displays with photodetectors that can register eye movements and convert those movements into commands — requests for data about a building that has come into view, for example.

The new technology opens the door to lightweight HMDs that people could wear comfortably enough to watch videos (and surf digital content) while moving at a quick pace, according to Fraunhofer.

As for the safety of such HMDs, given the known risks of texting while doing just about anything else, that has yet to be determined.

Luxury smartphones

Watch-phone takes your thumbprint — and costs up to $129,000

If you’re the kind of person who thinks nothing of dropping $100,000 on a new set of wheels or on a watch, the Ulysse Nardin Chairman is the “hybrid’’ Android smartphone for you.

The Chairman, which after years of design tweaks is about to become available commercially, consists of lacquered wood and precious metals and has hundreds of internal mechanical parts, in addition to its electronic bits — hence the term hybrid.

Its mechanical watch rotor actually supplements the device’s power supply.

The Chairman, which works on GSM and 3G networks, has a 3.2-inch touchscreen, 32GB of memory, an 8-megapixel camera, and a thumbprint reader.

Inspired by yachtsmen’s ship chronometers and the Ulysse Nardin SA’s watches for wealthy would-be James Bonds, the Chairman, however, strikes me as something too delicate to take above deck.

Rather, you will want to keep the fancy smartphone, which could cost you many tens of thousands of dollars (up to $129,000 for the Diamond Edition), in the cigar humidor-like docking station provided by its manufacturer, Scientific Cellular Innovations LLC (www.uncells.com).

That docking station is more than a pretty box with a charger running through it.

Hand-polished and trimmed in leather, it has a built-in speakerphone and Bluetooth connectivity. Its speakers, according to SCI, are also well suited to playing music.