Vuzix has been developing virtual and augmented reality devices for quite some time and the company owns a substantial patent portfolio. Now Vuzix has announced that it has acquired two patents from Michael DeLuca in Florida, US. Both patents were filed in early 2000. The patent US 6559813 describes a way of viewing virtual images in combination with real world images in what we call augmented reality. The other patent (US 6243054) deals with a stereoscopic user interface for virtual and augmented reality systems.
Near to eye displays fall into two major categories – see-through and look around. A see-through display allows the user to see through an optical combiner to see the real world and the virtual image at the same time. This optical combiner can be a half way mirror or a planar waveguide as used in the Vuzix M2000AR.
The user always sees two images overlaid at the same time. This means that the resulting contrast in the virtual image depends on the brightness of the real image that is behind the virtual image. This dilemma exists for all see-through style augmented reality headsets so far. US patent 6559813 describes a method to improve the virtual image quality by adding a second display that hides the real world image from the view of the user.
The second display can be a simple black and white display to achieve such an effect. On the negative side, this hides part of the real world from our view, which makes this technology questionable for any kind of safety-relevant functions. For example using this technology in a headset while driving could hide another vehicle if any virtual information is being shown at this position on the display. This could of course be mitigated by using image interpretation algorithms from a connected camera system.
The patent not only describes the hardware but also the process to control such a system. The patent is already 15 years old, and the description of augmented reality is somewhat unusual, however Vuzix seems to believe that this patent is important to create augmented reality systems. – NH