DoCoMo Shows Prototype Augmented Reality Display

NTT DoCoMo has developed a tiny display that clips onto a pair of eyeglasses and provides navigation services or information about local shops.

The prototype system, called AR Walker, includes a gyro sensor that can detect which way the wearer is facing to provide directions. It connects wirelessly to a mobile phone, which runs the software and provides the GPS data.

To see AR Walker in action, watch the video on YouTube.

"The AR Walker is based on augmented reality technology and you have a tiny display mounted on your glasses that shows the information regarding your location, and then it guides you," said Takuya Ori, PR manager for NTT DoCoMo. The company showed the device at the Ceatec show in Japan this week.

When the gyro sensor detects that the person is looking left or right, it can identify which shops or restaurants are in that direction. When the wearer looks up it provides weather information, and when looking straight ahead it provides navigation.

AR Walker works best for people who already wear glasses, since the display can just clip on. The company showed other form factors for the display, including one for people who don't wear glasses and one for more active users that mounts on a pair of sport sunglasses.

The research is being done with Olympus, and the system is currently intended only for use while walking and for use in Japan, but Ori said it might one day be available overseas. A potential use for it would be at museums or other tourist attractions, he said.

There are some drawbacks. The display has a very small "sweet spot" for viewing. If it's positioned too high or low the viewer can't see the entire screen. And while users won't need to take their eyes off their path in front of them, they will still need to change focus to view the display, which could be distracting. Also, the software that DoCoMo demonstrated AR Walker with was very basic and will need to be developed much further before considering commercialization.

Nonetheless the technology was very popular at Ceatec, with showgoers waiting for up to an hour to try the system.

Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at Nick_Barber@idg.com and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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