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The Real-Life Dangers of Augmented Reality

Augmented reality can impair our perception, but good design can minimize the hazards

12 min read
face illo
Illustration: Eric Frommelt

You know your cellphone can distract you and that you shouldn’t be texting or surfing the Web while walking down a crowded street or driving a car. Augmented reality—in the form of Google Glass, Sony’s SmartEyeglass, or Microsoft HoloLens—may appear to solve that problem. These devices present contextual information transparently or in a way that obscures little, seemingly letting you navigate the world safely, in the same way head-up displays enable fighter pilots to maintain situational awareness.

But can augmented reality really deliver on that promise? We ask this question because, as researchers at Kaiser Permanente concerned with diseases that impair mobility (Sabelman) and with using technology to improve patient care (Lam), we see dangers looming.

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Autonomous Drones Challenge Human Champions in First “Fair” Race

Vision-based AI drones outfly world-class human pilots

4 min read
Two drones, one red and one blue, fly through gates in a drone racing course inside an aircraft hangar

Watching robots operate with speed and precision is always impressive, if not, at this point, always surprising. Sophisticated sensors and fast computing means that a powerful and agile robot, like a drone, that knows exactly where it is and exactly where it’s going can reliably move in highly dynamic ways. This is not to say that it’s easy for the drone, but if you’ve got a nice external localization system, a powerful off-board computer, and a talented team of roboticists, you can perform some amazingly agile high-speed maneuvers that most humans could never hope to match.

I say “most” humans, because there are some exceptionally talented humans who are, in fact, able to achieve a level of performance similar to that of even the fastest and most agile drones. The sport of FPV (first-person view) drone racing tests what’s possible with absurdly powerful drones in the hands of humans who must navigate complex courses with speed and precision that seems like it shouldn’t be possible, all while relying solely on a video feed sent from a camera on the front of the drone to the pilot’s VR headset. It’s honestly astonishing to watch.

A year ago, autonomous racing quadrotors from Davide Scaramuzza’s Robotics and Perception Group at the University of Zurich (UZH) proved that they could beat the world’s fastest humans in a drone race. However, the drones relied on a motion-capture system to provide very high resolution position information in real time, along with a computer sending control information from the safety and comfort of a nearby desk, which doesn’t really seem like a fair competition.

Earlier this month, a trio of champion drone racers traveled to Zurich for a rematch, but this time, the race would be fair: no motion-capture system. Nothing off-board. Just drones and humans using their own vision systems and their own computers (or brains) to fly around a drone racing track as fast as possible.

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Inside the Universe Machine: The Webb Space Telescope’s Trailblazing Optics

As NASA’s newest Big Science project opens its eyes, IEEESpectrum reflects on JWST’s groundbreaking engineering

9 min read
Fourteen technicians in clean-room suits guide the hoisting of a honeycombed, hexagon-mirrored telescope inside a giant cleanroom construction space

The James Webb Space Telescope’s 18-segment gold mirror enables it to see a penny 40 kilometers away, or a football 550 kilometers away.

NASA/Desiree Stover

“Build something that will absolutely, positively work.” This was the mandate from NASA for designing and building the James Webb Space Telescope—at 6.5 meters wide the largest space telescope in history. Last December, JWST launched famously and successfully to its observing station out beyond the moon. And now according to NASA, as soon as next week, the JWST will at long last begin releasing scientific images and data.

Mark Kahan, on JWST’s product integrity team, recalls NASA’s engineering challenge as a call to arms for a worldwide team of thousands that set out to create one of the most ambitious scientific instruments in human history. Kahan—chief electro-optical systems engineer at Mountain View, Calif.–based Synopsys—and many others in JWST’s “pit crew” (as he calls the team) drew hard lessons from three decades ago, having helped repair another world-class space telescope with a debilitating case of flawed optics. Of course the Hubble Space Telescope is in low Earth orbit, and so a special space-shuttle mission to install corrective optics ( as happened in 1993) was entirely possible.

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Free On-Demand Webinars on Data Acquisition Boards and Their Applications

Explore the basics of digitizers, pulse detection, peer-to-peer streaming, and more

1 min read

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