Wide5 and Alternative Head-Mounted Displays

My goal was to create a display that ‘breathed’ when you looked through the lenses. Only my research partner, Ian McDowall, understood this vision, and we set out on a six-year journey to make it real. Our approach was to work backwards, starting with the user experience to the perception of the eye to the design of our optics to designing a new rendering pipeline. With a nod to our patient sponsors at the Naval Research Lab, we were able to find a unique architecture through a path of apparent contradictions:

 

  • Made it lighter by using larger screens: Common logic was to use micro-displays, we gambled on small LCD panels that allowed relaxing of the optical design, four years before the iPhone.

  • Increased the framerate by doubling the rendering load: By creating an extra image for peripheral imagery at lower resolution, we did not waste computation on what could not be perceived.

  • Provided better images by allowing lens aberrations: By running lens optimizations that inherently considered software correction, it allowed for more comfortable visuals.

  • Corrected distortion by ignoring mathematical models: We tuned the final maps by trusting our eyes and what felt right, which corrected for second order effects

 

The final architecture we designed is now an approach used in most of today’s upcoming consumer products. It stoked the imagination of people like Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus, who, before joining my lab, wrote: “I would absolutely kill to get my hands on it, along with a screwdriver, for an hour.” It inspired Col. Blake who was in charge of Army training and simulation, to task me with the mission of “disrupting the supply chain” for VR. Most of all, the Wide5 served as the backbone for research in my lab on the next steps for virtual reality.

 

I continue to pursue alternative approaches for HMDs. In order to create a system that puts no glass between the user's face and the experience, I designed a novel near-axis Retro-Reflective Projector system that provides each user an individualized, perspective-correct image. The castAR company is developing a similar approach for a commercial product. I also worked with Tracy McSheery of PhaseSpace, Inc. to create a mobile phone-based Augmented Reality system, which he is commercializing this year.

 

 

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Selected Publications

(c) 2015 Mark T. Bolas