At this year's CEATEC conference in Chiba, Japan, Docomo previewed the AR Walker augmented reality application that uses a tiny display screen mounted on a pair of glasses, rather than on a mobile phone screen like Layar or other AR apps. While the AR Walker application is not by itself anything new, being able to see annotations of the world around you without having to view it through a mobile phone's camera display is. Docomo has come one step closer to the fictional augmented reality glasses that anime fans might remember from the TV series Dennou Coil, where children wore glasses to view virtual objects superimposed over the real world.
The glasses don't come without some inconvenience however, because they must be connected to your mobile phone upon which the AR application in running. The result is a cumbersome mess of wires, though I should clarify the project is still in the experimental stages.
For the company's walking tour demonstration at CEATEC, the application was operating on Docomo's Windows Mobile based HTC phone, which was then connected to a pair of glasses. I had to stand in a sort of "mock Kyoto" for the demo, comprised of three big screens displaying the street view: one to the front, and one on each side of me.
Through your right eye on the glasses' QVGA display (320x240) you can see an animated mushroom, Docomo's mascot Docomo-Dake, who guides you on your way. Our demo took us through the streets of Kyoto, and the AR annotations explaining the environment were prompted according to which direction you faced. When you look up in the sky, the eye display shows you weather information. Look to the right and you see details of the restaurant on the right-hand side. Off to the left you'll see an annotated view of the inn on the left.
Docomo told us that application will also work with a regular GPS-enabled phone, much like existing mobile AR apps. But the glasses display lends AR Walker a little bit of a futuristic feel that's so much cooler than any mobile phone view.
It's interesting to ponder what this application might be like if it were implemented using a technology like TDK's film OLED screen, which was also unveiled at CEATEC this week. If the whole system could ever be built into a standalone pair of glasses, then it would certainly be something to get very excited about.