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Circuit Breaker

Would Google Glass-style augmented reality work better on a smartwatch?

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Dirk Wenig, Johannes Schöning, Alex Olwal, Mathias Oben and Rainer Malaka

Augmented reality is a tough trick to pull off in the real world, and one only need to look at things like the Google Glass to see how hard it is to make wearable technology that both enhances life digitally without awkwardly intruding on the real world. The WatchThru is a concept created by a team of researchers from University of Bremen, Google, and Hasselt University that offers a different spin on AR with an intriguing expansion to traditional smartwatches: a second transparent display for augmented reality interactions.

The research team has a couple of interesting use cases for the additional screen. For example, having the glass show a directional arrow to help navigate around a campus, while a more traditional map display is shown on the regular screen. A more complex version uses external tracking cameras and sensors to keep track of the location of the watch and the wearer’s head to display contextual icons and overlays onto real-world objects. It’s definitely the more interesting of the two implementations, allowing the watch to highlight nearby outlets or overlay connections on an circuit board, but the external tracking required means this is probably still years away from a practical implantation.

The WatchThru device itself takes the form of two different prototypes — a simpler version, consisting of an Android Wear with the additional screen, and a far bulkier model that incorporates the tracking sensors. The team hopes that future models would be able to employ a pop-up screen that could fold down onto the main display when not in use.

Obviously, this is a research project in the very early prototyping stage, so don’t expect to see an AR smartwatch in stores anytime soon. But as a proof of concept, it’s an interesting perspective of how augmented reality could work on a smartwatch.