I am Iron Man: That’s how these augmented reality goggles feel – USA TODAY

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REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – I am Iron Man. At least for a few minutes here inside a small conference room at the headquarters of augmented reality company Meta.

With virtual reality goggles, you dive into worlds while blacked out from reality. With the clear-lensed Meta 2 headset, I am able to simultaneously see my host for this demo, Meta founder Meron Gribetz, as well as a range of hovering holographic images that are projected downward from the top of the device.

There’s a wide flat screen TV. A three-foot-high globe. A see-through human body. And even a Meta employee from down the hall who is rendered in three dimensions for a brief video chat.

But the real showstopper – the moment when the promise of augmented reality, AR, comes into sharp focus against the ongoing VR buzz – is when Gribetz tells me to reach my hand out and point an index finger at the translucent human figure floating in my field of view.

“When it appears to light up, make a fist and move your arm to the right,” he says.

When I do so, the body suddenly splits into four different images lined up one by one, each showcasing a different aspect of the anatomy. If I want to layer them back on top of each other, I simply reach out, make a fist, and move the image. Robert Downey, Jr., does the same action in Iron Man, only he’s not wearing glasses.

Although this aspect of the Meta 2 demo wasn’t operational during our visit, Gribetz says at a recent TED Talk demo in Vancouver he demonstrated how two Meta 2 wearers can pass a hologram between each other. This sales pitch is aimed at architects and other designers, who can use AR to jointly work on a virtual project as technology gets rid of physical models.

“Eventually, we’ll all be wearing a very light and inconspicuous strip of clear glass across our eyes,” says Gribetz, who has been working on his AR vision for the past six years, a passion he shares with those working on rival AR projects at companies such as ODG, Epson and Microsoft. “The goal is to make the operating system completely intuitive, and to replace computers.”

That’s where the Meta 2’s gesture control comes in. In another demo, I’m presented with nearly a dozen TV monitors in my wide field of view, stacked two high. By reaching out and “grabbing” one, I’m able to move it into a different position, much like one might move apps on a smartphone screen.

And you can interact with the screens, too. Gribetz hands me a physical keyboard, which I can see through the Meta 2 lens. I start to type a message and it appears on the computer screen in my line of sight, which of course isn’t really there.


A particularly powerful aspect of Meta 2 is the fact that the images it presents remain anchored in space, which allows me to walk around them and enhances the sense that I’m really in front of a solid object and not just a hologram. This has the added effect of banishing the somewhat disoriented woozy feeling that can accompany heavy VR use.

Ultimately, what’s truly significant here is that – thanks to both a lightweight form factor and the see-through visor – AR provides a liberating sensation that contrasts with VR’s often claustrophobic feeling.

I’ve hiked across Everest ice fields and retreated from angry dinosaurs in VR thanks to the magic of Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, products that are coming this year. But in each instance the experience was compromised by my mind never forgetting that I was in a real room and by my worrying about bumping into walls. By keeping us rooted in the real world, AR makes its mixed reality universe all the more inviting.

Meta 2 rolls out to developers soon priced at under $1,000 (you provide the computer to power it). There already are a range of enterprise customers for Meta’s wares, ranging from Nike to Airbus, and it will be a while before the average consumer will be living with AR on a daily basis.

But what Meta 2 clearly demonstrates is that the outsized predictions about augmented reality – it will account for 75% of a $120 billion AR/VR market by 2020, according to Digi-Capital – aren’t just justified, they’re as realistic as AR’s holograms are illusory.

Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava.

I am Iron Man: That’s how these augmented reality goggles feel – USA TODAY

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