RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif. -- Stealth startup Atheer came out of the shadows at the D: All Things Digital conference here, unveiling its wearable 3D augmented reality platform that works on top of Android and potentially other mobile operating systems.
Atheer's technology employs stereoscopic glasses and a 3D camera to track hand movements to manipulate virtual objects in real space, similar in concept to the portrayals of gesture control in movies like "Minority Report" and "Avatar."
"We are the first mobile 3D platform delivering the human interface. We are taking the touch experience on smart devices, getting the Internet out of these monitors and putting it everywhere in physical world around you," said founder and CEO Sulieman Itani. "In 3D, you can paint in the physical world. For example, you could leave a note to a friend in the air a restaurant, and when the friend walks into the restaurant, only they can see it."
Another startup, Meta, is making similar claims about commercializing 3D glasses and gestural interfaces with mobile features such as Wi-Fi, GPS, accelerometer and voice control. But unlike Meta, which grew out of a Columbia University project, Atheer doesn't want to go the route of Apple, creating a new, proprietary device.
Atheer's platform isn't hardware specific and currently runs on the standard low-power ARM chips used in smartphones, with patented algorithms for detecting hands and tracking movement.
"We are aiming to make it significantly more power efficient than a smartphone," Itani said. "We want to create a portable device you can put in your pocket and the interface is as big as possible."
Atheer's platform, which has been in development for a year and a half, is a bridge between existing mobile apps and games and those purpose-built for 3D augmented reality and gestural control. The platform will work with apps built on the open source Android platform, and could be integrated with Apple's iOS, Microsoft Xbox, or Windows Mobile if they grant access to Atheer.
For Android apps not optimized for Atheer, users see a virtual tablet in front of them that they can manipulate by touch, just like a physical tablet. "This is important for people moving to a new platform. We reduce the experience gap and keep the critical mass of the ecosystem," Itani said. "We don't want to create a new ecosystem to fragment the market more. Everything that runs on Android can be there, from game engines to voice control."
Atheer will also court developers to create 3D applications specifically for the platform, and is working with a variety of undisclosed partners to integrate its platform into upcoming wearable devices, mobile apps, and services. Atheer is also working to standardize gestures, such as using a single finger to manipulate objects, and will expose some APIs for app developers to define gestures and build functions into apps.
Like other 3D augmented reality pioneers, Atheer, is facing an uphill battle and dependent on partners making the devices low-cost and easy to use. "In the end, it's all about giving an experience will make their live easier and happier, whether a doctor or someone selling sandwiches," Itani said.
One of the significant barriers to adoption for the wearable augmented reality glasses is creating an immersive user experience that doesn't make it feel like a worse version of reality.
"You can implement on smartphone but there are problems we are trying to solve that need every side of equation to be correct, such as understanding how the eyes and hands function and adapting the device to each user," Itani said.
If you push virtual content next to peoples' eyes, you need correct calibration, response time, and 3D rendering," said Atheer's computer vision expert Allen Yang. "You need the full experience for this to fly. If it's just nice graphics and the interface doesn't work, it's no good. In the worst case, if the rendering is bad, people will feel dizzy or sick. The interface should learn about you and wrap itself around you."
Yang said that Atheer has intellectual property and systems that train the user's eyes to work better with each other and more comfortably in a 3D environment. Optimizing the visual experience for each user is a core part of Atheer's platform.
"An eye doctor can tell you 10 or 20 things about your eyes," Yang said. "We are a tech company, not a medical device company, so we don't want to reinvent the world. We want to virtually recreate those procedures in an interactive augmented reality environment, and have an audio/video to guide to take users through critical steps to grasp critical parameters of their eyes."
Atheer, based in Mountain View, Calif., employs 20 people and is not venture capital funded so far. The company will work with a few developers this year, Itani said, and expects to have more wearable and aesthetically pleasing glasses early next year.