Markerless AR, augmented reality that does not require a special object or image to work, is the holy-grail of consumer AR technology. We’ve seen that future with the amazing (yet stupidly-expensive) Hololens. When it comes to consumer-grade markerless solutions, well there really aren’t any.
Being markerless is not the only trick the Hololens has either, it uses projection onto semi-transparent media, allowing for natural light and more immersiveness. Most mobile AR solutions use a camera pass-through, which is responsible for all sorts of weirdness in terms of lag and perspective.
A new LA-based startup called Mira thinks they have a way to bring some of that Hololens magic to the people in the form of their $99 Prism headset.
The first thing you can say about the Prism is that you may not want to wear it in public. It’s a big old thing that has the appearance of industrial safety glasses or some other protective visor.
It has to be this big in order to cover enough of your field of view, but the main reason the Prism is such as huge facehugger is the marriage to an iPhone 7, which is stuck awkwardly to your forehead in what appears to be an expensive form of Indian poker.
The software uses the screen of the iPhone 7 to project images into the visor, which is probably why this is a single-model headset. The makes have to know the precise dimensions and size of the phone to get the projection right.
On the downside, it means if you don’t own the right iPhone you need not apply.
It’s a little ironic that this product is so iPhone specific right now, since there have been plenty of rumours to suggest that AR would be a killer-feature on the iPhone 8 and of course Apple’s ARkit SDK has also been making a splash.
Of course, this hardware would be pretty useless without software written specifically to take advantage of it. Luckily there is already some sort of developer support to create applications that will work with the $99 Mira Prism. Notably, Wikitude have expanded their markerless AR SDK to support the Mira, which will make it much easier for prospective app developers to make content for the platform.
The Prism seems like a truly innovative take on the (until now) ludicrously expensive projected, markerless AR market. One point of concern is how much the company is limiting itself by focusing on the iPhone 7.
It’s understandable from a technical standpoint, but as popular as the phone is, it’s still a relatively minor player in the smartphone market when you take Android phones as a collective. It’s also a very expensive handset, which means that the Prism is only cheap if you already own an iPhone 7 anyway.
Also, is it wise to take on Apple when they are reportedly going to tackle AR natively on their own hardware? Only time will tell if Mira made the right decisions.