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Trying Out Canon's Mixed-Reality Tech

July 27, 2012 | William Zimmerman
Cannon Mixed Reality Technology
Meant for design work, it goes well beyond consumer-oriented augmented reality

By John Boyd, IEEE Spectrum via ISPR

26 July 2012--Canon begins selling a next-generation form of virtual reality technology known as mixed reality (MR) this month. The company suggests its version of MR is an enhanced, more grown-up version of the augmented reality provided by some smartphone apps and things like Google's Project Glass. In contrast to augmented reality, which typically adds text or simple graphics to what the user sees, Canon's MR adds computer-generated virtual objects to the real world in real time, at full scale, and in three dimensions.

In a further contrast to consumer-oriented augmented-reality schemes, the technology is initially targeted at engineering groups involved in designing and building new products. Canon claims that not only will it cut down on prototyping, it will also speed up concurrent engineering by allowing those involved on the manufacturing side to get a faster look at what is coming down the new-product pipeline.

The key technologies making this possible are packed into a video see-through head-mounted display (HMD). The HMD uses two charge-coupled-device (CCD) video cameras, one for each eye, to capture video from the real world, which is sent via cable (attached to the HMD) to a computer for integration with the computer-generated graphics or computer-aided-design data to be overlaid. The synthesized video is then sent back to twin SXGA-resolution displays in the HMD, which reflect the images through an optical system in the helmet and then into the eyes. The optics include a free-form three-sided prism for each eye, which refracts and reflects the image several times, enlarging the video and removing aberrations in the process, so "the images shown on the displays appear full size," says Takashi Aso, deputy senior general manager of Canon's Image Communications Products Operations.

When I was trying out the technology, Aso had me wear the HMD while I stood in front of a box the size of an office copy machine. Around the machine were placed three types of registration markers--white square boards with patterns of black hexagons in three sizes corresponding to their location on the box. Each marker had its own identification number, which enabled the computer to calculate my position vis-a-vis the box.

The technology works something like a bar-code setup. "But with a bar code, you need to scan the code straight on," says Aso. "Because you will be moving around the object, the patterns have to be recognizable from any number of angles. We've found that hexagonal-shaped patterns are the best for reducing errors and for giving consistently good results."

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