Augmented reality (AR) devices are meant to help us escape reality. But MIT researchers have heard answering prayers that we didn’t even know we were praying. The researchers have built an AR device that gives the wearer X-ray vision to make our daily lives just a tad bit easier.
No more asking mom for help to find the thing. Just put on your cool new AR headset and look for the missing item. Also, statutory warning: it will get tougher to hide things from your siblings.
The augmented reality headset combines computer vision and wireless perception to automatically locate an item that is hidden from view.
If you have ever wished for Superman’s X-ray vision, this is your moment.
MIT’s All-Seeing AR headset
MIT’s researchers are known for coming up with innovative solutions to the world’s problems. Their latest project could well and truly put AR on the map.
Well, who wouldn’t want to see what is hidden? It’s practically a siren call for everyone from kids to adults. The headset could also put everything metaverse-related on the map and people explore different uses of AR accessories.
The system utilizes radio frequency (RF) signals, which can pass through common materials like cardboard boxes, plastic containers, or wooden dividers, to find hidden items that have been labeled with RFID tags, which reflect signals sent by an RF antenna.
When the headset wearer searches for the item, as they walk into the room containing said item, it appears on the AR interface as a transparent item. Furthermore, when the user picks up the item, the AR headset verifies whether it is the item you were looking for.
Researchers tested out the augmented reality headset in a warehouse-like environment and were able to have a success rate of 96%. On average, the AR headset, called X-AR, located items within 9.8 cm.
“Our whole goal with this project was to build an augmented reality system that allows you to see things that are invisible — things that are in boxes or around corners — and in doing so, it can guide you toward them and truly allow you to see the physical world in ways that were not possible before,” says Fadel Adib, who is an associate professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, the director of the Signal Kinetics group in the Media Lab, and the senior author of a paper on X-AR.
Creating the AR headset
The MIT researchers first created an antenna that could connect with RFID-tagged items, before coming up with the headset. The challenge was in creating a single lightweight antenna that had enough bandwidth to communicate with the device. Most RFID-tagged items use multiple antennas spread out meters apart.
Another part of the challenge was in making the antenna compact enough that it would fit into the headset and not obstruct the view of the wearer.
Once the antenna was built, the next steps were relatively easier. The MIT researchers used synthetic aperture radar (SAR) to enable the device into creating objects of images.
The X-AR takes measurements with its antenna from different vantage points as the user moves around the room, then it combines those measurements. The visual data gathered by the X-AR’s self-tracking ability helps it build a map of the environment, before commencing its search for the hidden object.
“While it presented a challenge when we were designing the system, we found in our experiments that it actually works well with natural human motion. Because humans move around a lot, it allows us to take measurements from lots of different locations and accurately localize an item,” Dodds says.
After the experiment was successful, researchers developed a system to verify whether the user has picked the right object. The AR headset performs this function by combining the holographic visualization capabilities of the headset with the RF signals to verify information about the object.
The researchers also plan to explore different sensing modalities like WiFi, mmWave technology, or terahertz waves, to enhance the device’s sensing and interaction capabilities. They are hopeful that the AR headset will pave the way for different kinds of devices with X-ray vision.
The X-AR’s most basic use could be to locate missing objects in your home or office. On a commercial scale, it can be used in industries to prevent loss of property to identify correct objects amidst a large pile and for verification purposes when two or more objects have similar appearances.
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