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Augmented reality headsets could help firefighters save lives

30 June 2015

New optical technology will be demonstrated at the Royal Society’s annual Summer Science Exhibition which opens officially to the public today.

Researchers say that in the future, firefighters could wear headsets that use this technology to help them find victims in burning buildings.

The headset allows images and video to be displayed in high resolution, full colour, and potentially 3D, in perfect focus through the centre of a field of vision. Critically the image is transparent, allowing for the perfect overlay of information on whatever subject is being viewed.

Simon Hall, from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) said:

“This optical technology is a game-changer for the development of augmented reality devices. The applications for devices that allow people to view the world around them overlaid with data relevant to what they are seeing are endless.

Just think of a firefighter entering a burning building. Equipped with a headset that integrates our technology and a built-in infrared camera, firefighters could use an infrared view to navigate their way safely to people trapped in burning buildings.”

Working in partnership with TruLife Optics, researchers from NPL have produced an optical component that consists of a glass waveguide, approximately 10cm long, 3cm wide and 2.88mm in thickness which contains two postage stamp sized holograms. Light is transmitted into the first hologram and then turned 90 degrees through the length of the waveguide, via total internal reflection, before hitting the second hologram and being turned a further 90 degrees so it is projected into the human eye.

Simon Hall adds:

“We’ve all seen Tony Stark’s view of the world when he wears his Iron Man suit – information about his world being projected in his line of sight. Now we’ll be able to experience it for ourselves. We’ll be working with the developers of augmented reality devices on a wide range of applications.

A surgeon who needs a second opinion about the operation he’s doing from a colleague across the Atlantic could use this optical technology in an augmented reality headset to receive guidance in real time, without looking away. The technology could also be used for head-up displays on car windscreens showing speed. There’s a world of possibilities for work, play and daily life.”

Visitors to the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition will be able to try an augmented reality display, explore a system to augment the eyesight of partially sighted people and take a look at super-realistic hologram images.