Mixed Reality For The Rest Of Us Is Finally Here

Back in 2009, nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, I was part of a vibrant innovation program at Yahoo, a company that once commanded a considerable footprint in the tech world. For five years, I steered this program, spearheading the development of an array of unique products that sprouted from the fertile minds of our internal teams.

The innovation ethos at Yahoo during that time was not confined to immediate product ideas. Our gaze was frequently set on the future, contemplating what was possible tomorrow rather than today. This perspective gave birth to an internal initiative in 2007 called the ‘Futurist Program.’ The premise was simple: project our minds a decade into the future, and imagine life in 2017.

Our teams came up with a deluge of fantastic, forward-thinking ideas, and we set up a contest to reward the best ones. The grand prize, a lunch with Yahoo’s CEO Jerry Yang, was won by a team that envisaged something extraordinary: augmented reality glasses. Coined as the ‘Reality Overlay Device,’ this concept emerged from the corridors of Yahoo long before it became a buzzword in the tech sector.

Fast-forward to the present day, and augmented reality has become a significant player in the tech space. Companies like Apple are making strides to introduce consumer-friendly augmented reality glasses, a concept that has remained elusive despite earlier attempts like Google Glass. Apple’s know-how and consumer focus make them a strong candidate to succeed in this endeavor.

Augmented reality works magic by overlaying digital information – images, sounds, or useful data – onto our real-world surroundings. This fusion creates a unique hybrid environment where physical and virtual elements coexist and interact in real-time. From enhancing how we shop and learn to revolutionizing design and manufacturing, AR is reshaping industries and creating thrilling new opportunities.

But the true beauty of AR lies not just in the wow factor but in its potential to deepen our interactions and experiences, making them richer, more immersive, and, dare we say, more real. As we dive into this intriguing technology, we’ll explore how AR is not just augmenting our reality but redefining it.

Take, for example, the cinematic world of “Ready Player One,” directed by the maestro of pop culture, Steven Spielberg. The film presents a dystopian future where the lines between physical and virtual reality are blurred and erased. The characters in the movie spend most of their waking hours in a virtual universe known as the OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation), an expansive, visually stunning, AR-infused alternate world that offers an escape from the bleak reality of their physical environment.

The OASIS is accessed through a head-mounted display, akin to the AR and VR devices we see emerging in today’s tech market. These devices overlay the digital world onto the physical, enabling users to interact with both at the same time. The film takes this concept to the extreme, where this alternate reality dominates the characters’ sensory experience – they can see, hear, touch, and even smell the digital world around them.

Funnily enough, I was part of a team at Yahoo in 2009 where we patented a REALITY OVERLAY DEVICE, augmented reality glasses, nearly 15 years ago.

Sometimes it’s sad that truly innovative and disruptive products take so long to be commercialized.

Yesterday, Tim Cook announced their mixed reality glasses. I’ve said for the longest time that if anyone will be able to do augmented reality right, it would be Apple.  And they look pretty damn good.

Apple’s new Vision Pro headset is a powerful new computing platform that combines the latest in computer vision, augmented reality, and machine learning to create a truly immersive and interactive experience. However, some experts are skeptical about whether the headset will be able to live up to its promises.

One of the biggest concerns is the price tag. The Vision Pro is expected to cost $3,499, which is significantly more expensive than other AR headsets on the market. This high price could limit the headset’s appeal to consumers.

Another concern is the battery life. The Vision Pro is said to have a battery life of just 3 hours, which is not very long for a device designed to be used for extended periods. This could be a major drawback for users who plan to use the headset for gaming or other activities requiring long use periods.

Despite these concerns, there is still a lot of excitement about the Vision Pro. Apple has a history of creating innovative products that change how we live and work, and the Vision Pro has the potential to be one of the most important products Apple has ever released. Only time will tell if the headset can live up to its promises, but it will surely be one of the most hotly debated products of the year.

Interestingly, this development mirrors the evolution of our invention back in 2007. Our concept was patented by Yahoo in 2009 and can be found under the ‘Reality Overlay Device.’ But it’s now 2023, and we’re only seeing the realization of consumer-grade augmented reality glasses in the market. A gap of 14 years exists between our initial idea and the product’s execution, a timeframe I find disheartening.

It’s distressing that groundbreaking and disruptive ideas can take decades to transition from ideation to execution. This delay isn’t unique to augmented reality; the fax machine, for example, was invented in the 1920s but didn’t see widespread use until the 1980s. This pattern underlines a universal truth: innovative technologies take longer to reach the market than we typically anticipate.

The discrepancy between when we foresee a future technology and when it actually materializes is frustrating, and I believe we should strive to shorten this lag. As innovators and thought-leaders, our role is to expedite the journey from conception to reality, to make the future happen sooner than most expect.

This 14-year journey of the Reality Overlay Device from an idea in the Futurist Program to becoming a consumer reality is both an inspiration and a challenge for all innovators. In the end, everything we envision will eventually happen. The only question is when. It is up to us to make it happen sooner. Until next time, keep thinking future!