Wearable Tech World Feature Article
November 24, 2014

Epson Moverio BT-200 Gives Carnegie Mellon's Virtual Assistant Whole New Life

Virtual assistants aren't exactly new technology; from Siri to Cortana and beyond, the market is full of interfaces that will allow users to better make contact with the information and purposes desired. But most virtual assistants, particularly those found on mobile devices, can't help but come away a little on the two-dimensional side. That's not the case any more, though, as students at the Carnegie Mellon University Entertainment Technology Center have brought a new augmented reality application, complete with 3D virtual assistant, to the Epson Moverio BT-200.

The new application—said to be the early stages of a collaborative effort between Carnegie Mellon and Epson itself—is designed to help give students a beginning point for developing applications for the Moverio BT-200, and also providing something of a landmark in terms of a potential future for virtual assistants. The application in question features Sparky, the virtual assistant that works much like many others, but with the abilities of augmented reality. For instance, asking Sparky about the location of a Mexican restaurant will lead the user there with augmented reality navigation, perhaps one of the best uses for augmented reality systems. Since the Epson Moverio BT-200 is a head-mounted display system, it can take advantage of stereo vision to provide depth effects, and also take advantage of voice and gesture controls to produce a set of interactions described as “...meaningful and fun...”. Additionally, the Epson Moverio BT-200 offers up micro projectors on the sides of the lenses to deliver its presentations directly into the user's field of view. Head-mounted tracking systems, hands-free navigation tools, and a front-facing camera all built into the device each give Sparky plenty of room to run.

Carnegie Mellon student John Shields offered up an explanation of how the Epson system works together with the application to offer the overall experience, saying “Most current augmented reality technology applications use markers or computer vision to drop static objects or pre-produced animation into the environment. We wanted to explore creating a more natural experience through interacting with a character in the real world. The Moverio BT-200 smart glasses allowed us to bring these augmented reality characters to life with their binocular transparent display, gyroscope and other features.”

This is both an encouraging and a discouraging development. While the augmented reality assistant is a terrific idea and one that really ratchets up the interactive elements, it's hard not to look at this and say, what good is it really? Increasingly, we've seen head-mounted displays like the Google Glass banned outright, forbidden access to movie theaters, bars and restaurants, even the nation's roads. It's not hard to see where devices like the Epson Moverio wouldn't be far behind. We've also seen the use of such tools skyrocket in the business market, where augmented reality is put to great effect for field repair technicians and the like. The question, essentially, becomes one of overall effectiveness; we want access to the Sparkys of the world that lead us to the best restaurant in town, but when we have to leave the headset in the car—if we can even drive with it on in the first place—how much value does it really have?

Still, to see something like this built into a car's normal systems could be an impressive development, and the future may be kinder to things like Sparky than it is right now. Epson and Carnegie Mellon may be on to something here, and though its form may change, its function would still be valuable.

Edited by Maurice Nagle

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