Head-mounted augmented reality computers: the budget hack versus the bespoke device

One of the more interesting things about the hardware hacking scene is comparing the results of different methodologies. Some folk prefer to develop gadgets that are as close to production-grade products as possible, while others are more focussed on the low-budget proof-of-concept kludge… and this week has seen examples of both approaches as applied to augmented reality visor-computers.

First up, the craftsman approach. Pascal Brisset was frustrated with wearable computer cooncepts that relied on some sort of back- or belt-mounted processor unit to drive the headset, so he decided to build the whole system onto an off-the-shelf visor VDU [via Hack A Day]. As you can see, the results are pretty compact:

Pascal Brisset's wxhmd wearable computer

It runs on Linux, too, but that probably went without saying. Of course, it’s just a proof-of-concept rather than something that Brisset could start building for consumers. As he states in his documentation disclaimers:

The systems draws 1 A with no power optimizations. This is acceptable since nobody would want to spend more than a few minutes with two pulsed microwave RF transmitters, an overheating lithium battery and eye-straining optics strapped to their forehead anyway.


Meanwhile, down at the other end of the brain-farm, Andrew Lim built himself a backyard VR helmet using nothing more than an HTC Magic handset and a few dollars worth of other gubbins [also via Hack A Day]. It’s quite obviously a much more lo-fi affair than Brisset’s contraption:

It does have a certain goofy charm, doesn’t it? But again, hardly the sort of thing you’d try selling for any practical purpose whatsoever – the point being proven here is that augmented reality (and other similar emerging technologies) are not necessarily the exclusive domain of big corporations or slick new start-ups; where there’s a will (and some ingenuity), there’s a way. Or, as I often end up saying here, Everything Can (And Will) Be Hacked.

Personally, I find that reassuring, because the battle for direct access to our retinas is just starting to heat up. The big tech corporations can see there’s money to be made with wearable tech in the very near future, and they’re preparing to roll out the hardware as soon as next year (if press releases are to be trusted, which they quite possibly aren’t)… and as Jan Chipchase pointed out, the way they’ll make the stuff affordable to you is by co-opting with companies who’re desperate for the direct pipeline to your brainmeat that said hardware will provide. They need to ride that augmented reality hype curve, after all – at least until it reaches the trough of disillusionment.