Sure, Google's Project Glass augmented-reality technology may still be in an early stage, but the days of walking around the streets with a video feed overlaid atop your field of vision may be coming sooner than you think. As soon as June, in fact, if you're willing to shell out 199,980 yen (~US$2,476) for a pair of Brother Industries' AirScouter see-through head-mounted display. The printer and machinery manufacturer launched today in Japan a new version of their augmented-reality glasses that will support Windows XP and 7 devices.
First unveiled as a prototype way back in 2008, the AirScouter mounts a pico projector and a "half-mirrror" liquid crystal display in front of a pair of spectacle frames. The pico projector focuses light onto the translucent half-mirror display, and the results look to the eye like an image from a 16" monitor viewed from one metre away.
Although the AirScouter has actually been commercialised since last year, thus far it has only been sold as part of NEC's Tele Scouter wearable computing solution (which comes with a Windows CE 6.0 mini-terminal that runs on a 500MHz ARM processor). The idea here is to allow industrial workers such as, say, engineers to refer to manuals and blueprints in the middle of construction without having to shuttle to and fro a workstation.
Sounds like a pretty nifty solution… apart from the fact that these engineers probably use smartphones, tablet and notebook devices that are a heck of a lot more powerful than the Tele Scouter mini-terminal in their day-to-day. If only the AirScouter could connect to those devices – why limit compatibility to something so proprietary?
That's the issue Brother Industries is tackling with this new version, the AirScouter WD100-G/WD100-A, which opens the floodgates for potential uses by swapping out NEC's mini-computer for a control box that you can hook up to any Windows XP (32-bit) or Windows 7 PC via USB.
Once Windows recognises the AirScouter's drivers you can set the head-mounted display to be in "mirror mode" (i.e. everything you see on your Windows device), or in "extended mode" (functions as a second screen and additional workspace, on top of a primary display).
As the AirScouter does not feature a built-in battery, power for the entire gadget will be drawn from your Windows device – but you can prevent this by plugging in a mobile battery pack to the AirScouter control box via an extra USB port.
The AirScouter control box.
An extra micro-USB port (marked with a "lightning" icon in the picture) lets you power the gadget with an external battery source.
Brother Industries will sell the new AirScouter WD-100G/WD-100A models in the middle of June for 199,980 yen.
The only difference between the two models is that while WD-100G comes with lenses ready to use for folks with perfect eyesight, the WD-100A does not, for users who require prescription lenses.
Specs in full (identical for both models):
cable length: approx. 1.36m
|approx. 64g (including cables)|
| approx. 75g|
(including microUSB connector cover)