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May 15, 2017

DigiLens Brings Augmented Reality to the Ski Slopes

Last week, I decided to do something unimaginable for many CTOs–wear my company’s augmented reality (AR) eyewear while snowboarding down a mountain at a brisk 27 mph.

How do I know I was going that fast? Because the visual display on the DigiLens Snow Sport HUD (head-up display) I was testing was so incredibly bright that I constantly knew my speed and position. It didn’t matter if I was gazing down an Alpine Meadows Ski Resort slope or up into the hot sun; no matter where I looked, the images in my AR goggles were perfectly clear. (we measured up to 12,000 nits)

I shouldn’t have been surprised.

For the past year, we’ve been testing a similar personal waveguide technology called DigiLens MotoHUD in automotive windshields and motorcycle helmets. The aim is to enhance safety by putting key driving information such as speed and location at eye level so motorists don’t have to divert their attention from the road. Because drivers face all kinds of environmental conditions while traveling, our engineers made sure this technology included super bright displays for daytime driving and auto-dimming for the night.

Now, of course, I should have expected all of this to work just fine with the Snow Sport HUD we’re developing. But as with any new technology, you just never know.

Riding up the chairlift, I wondered whether the new system would hold up to the extreme glare from the snow. Or if spray from my swooshing snowboard would fog the goggles. And I wasn’t sure how vibrations from all those moguls might affect the digital readouts.

Obviously, I am very happy with the brightness and digital image. Almost giddy in fact, as the performance exceeded my wildest imagination. Any potential fogging was offset by the small amount of heat coming from the internal MotoHUD unit. I must admit that we still have work to do to stabilize images against vibrations. This may involve adding vibration detection “steadicam-chip” or other steadying capabilities. We’ll see.

What I can confirm is that we are definitely extending our personal waveguide technology beyond the aerospace and automotive industries and into the snow sports as well as cycling. We expect to release the finished products early next year, and encourage application developers to climb aboard because they have a wonderful opportunity in front of them.

We’ll need apps that utilize GPS capabilities to provide skiers and snowboarders with important real-time information, such as how fast they’re going, how many vertical feet they’ve traversed, where they are on the slopes, and what points of interest might be nearby (like the lodge tavern).

Developers can also take advantage of built-in Bluetooth capabilities by delivering Apple and Android apps that skiers and boarders can see while on the slopes. They should already be able to access anything currently on their phones, such as incoming calls or texts, fitness trackers and weather reports.

But where the true opportunity lies is for developers to deliver apps that go beyond the basics. The exciting possibilities are endless.

For example, it wouldn’t be surprising to see some entrepreneurial developers releasing entire families of gamified-training applications that take advantage of the Snow Sport HUD’s AR capabilities. Advanced skiers and snowboarders can use such apps to hone their skills. Novice and intermediate enthusiasts might bypass group lessons and rent goggles loaded with training programs to learn at their own pace.

We also envision the interactive capabilities of these AR goggles inspiring location-based interactive games where skiers and boarders compete while they’re on the slopes with on-screen readouts showing how everyone is doing in real-time. Think of it as something like Pokemon Go, but in the snow.

You’ll undoubtedly hear more from DigiLens as we continue to evolve the Snow Sport HUD throughout the year. Although, I can’t guarantee I’ll be reporting from the slopes next time. The version used during this field trial was mono-green with the color prototype coming in the next few weeks.

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