Creating a low-end VR headset can be an easy task that requires only a phone and some cardboard. It’s one of the main why VR has been so successful at delivering to the masses. On the other hand creating an AR headset is the opposite. Augmented reality has always remained an exclusive experience due to its high technicality and cost.
Well not anymore. An affordable solution has been found by a few developers and hobbyist. What was the breakthrough solution? Well essentially, instead of putting the screen in front of your eyes, it’s moved above them. Planar optics are used to reflect the stereoscopic image from the phone to a semi-transparent visor in front of the user’s field of view. It’s actually quite a simple design in hindsight. Maybe not a total breakthrough but it works decently well. Its currently the cheapest solution to experiencing AR until the standard cost of a headset lowers. Here are some designs that you can currently buy or make yourself.
The Ripple is a handheld see through display that is designed to work with your smartphone. What’s unique about this headset is that it uses Fresnel optics to focus the virtual image at 2 meters and slightly increases the field of view. It also has the phone facing forward so the camera can see tracking markers in order to properly place content in the world. The device uses budget conscious mateirals to fit a wide range of users. The company has a downloadable SDK that is optimized for creators curious in augmented reality. You can purchase the Seebright Ripple now for $39.99 on their website.
PolyLens is an elegant and simple solution to entry level AR. It’s made out of laser cut glass allowing for the pieces to fit perfectly together. Simply place your phone on top and look through the visor to see the virtual image overlaid the real world. The only downside of this approach is that it does not have lense’s to focus the image at a comfortable viewing distance. The functionality of the device is more that of a heads up display than an augmented reality headset. The developer of the Polylens plans to release an updated prototype that uses lenses and allows for the phone camera to be used for tracking. More details can be found on their website.
Here is a DIY named ‘Cardboard Hololens’. It requires only a phone, some cardboard, plastic, and a free afternoon. This is a cool design but the capabilities of the device are limited. Overall it a workable solution to base off of, and the design can be changed to fit your requirements. Here is the DIY Instructables page: Cardboard Hololens