Canon introduces augmented reality headsets for product design

The Canon MReal system can project 3D CAD designs into real space

Imaging giant Canon has applied its optical expertise to an augmented reality (AR) system that could allow engineers and designers get a better view of their creations before they are even built.

"We're taking the world of computer graphics design and overlaying that with a real-world view of a user's surroundings," said Dennis Amorosano, senior director of solutions marketing and professional services for Canon USA, in a New York press conference launching the product. "You get a much more lifelike experience."

The MReal System for Mixed Reality system, available in March, uses headsets that, when worn, layer three-dimensional images into the viewer's field of vision. The system uses CAD (Computer Assisted Design) files to display the virtual objects, as well as motion detection sensors to track where the viewer is looking. The price of the system starts at US$125,000.

The display, when mounted on the head, projects a virtual object over the user's line of sight in such a way that it looks like the object is actually in front of the viewer. Users can walk around and inspect the object, such as an automobile design, from multiple angles. The virtual object maintains its size and shape no matter the angle from which it is inspected.

Universities and company research labs have been building prototype AR systems for years. Google recently released more details on its experimental Google Glass, an AR system that projects data on a pair of glasses worn by a user, though it is still soliciting ideas on how its device should work.

Canon, however, is one of the first companies to offer a commercial product based on AR. The company is pitching the system for use in large-scale engineering and development. Car companies and other manufacturing firms could use the technology, as could universities, museums and entertainment companies.

"There has been a lot more activity focused on the consumer marketplace," Amorosano said. "But we believe the business-to-business opportunity for mixed reality will continue to grow."

The system uses CAD files created in the DeltaGen three-dimensional visualization software, offered by RTT (Realtime Technology). Canon also offers an app that can run on a tablet that allows participants to instantly change different aspects of the object, such as size or color.

Canon is not alone in pursuing the AR market. Also this week, AR platform vendor Metaio announced that mobile semiconductor supplier ST-Ericsson would be using Metaio's AR processing engine design in its own mobile platform circuitry.

One of the world's largest electronics firms, Canon generates about US$40 billion in revenue per year. It ranked third overall in U.S. patents registered for 2012.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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