The Sword of Damocles was the precursor to all the digital eyewear and virtual reality applications. The head-mounted display was created in 1968 by University of Utah scientist Ivan Sutherland and his student Bob Sproull.
Caption byDan Farber / Photo by "The Ultimate Display", Ivan Sutherland
Steve Mann is considered the father of digital eyewear and what he calls "mediated" reality. He is a professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto and an IEEE senior member, and also serves as chief scientist for the augmented reality startup, Meta.
Mann is wearing his wearing his EyeTap Digital Eye Glass from 1999. An EyeTap is worn in front of the eye, recording what is available to the eye and superimposing the view as digital imagery. It uses a beam splitter to send the same scene to both the eye and a camera, and is tethered to a computer worn to his body in a small pack.
The WearComp 1, built by Steve Mann in 1980, cobbled together many devices to create visual experience. It included an antenna to communicate wirelessly and share video. From the collection of Steve Mann.
Steven Feinberg (left), a professor of computer science at Columbia University, created the first outdoor mobile augmented reality system using a see-through display in 1996. Steve Mann, a professor at University of Toronto, has been developing digital eyewear for more than 35 years.
The WearComp 4 dates from the same year that Apple's Macintosh was first shipped and the publication of William Gibson's science fiction novel, "Neuromancer," in which humans are augmented via computer implants. Mann's WearComp 4 employed clothing-based signal processing, a personal imaging system with left eye display, and separate antennas for simultaneous voice, video, and data communication. From the collection of Steve Mann.
The Private Eye head-mounted display scanned a vertical array of LEDs across the visual field using a vibrating mirror. The monochrome screen is 1.25-inches on the diagonal, but images appear to be a 15-inch display at 18-inches distance. From the collection of Steven Feiner.
Steve Mann's obsession with digital eyewear began in his childhood, after being taught to weld by his grandfather. He was fascinated by the idea of seeing the unseen while welding, and using video cameras, displays, and computers to alter the view in real time. From the collection of Steve Mann.
MyVu's Personal Media Viewers hooked up to external video sources, such as an iPod, to provide the illusion of watching the content on a large screen from several feet away. From the collection of Dan Cui.
Wrap SeeThru was developed by Vuzix in 2009. The publicly traded company has been developing video eyewear for 15 years and has dozens of patents on the technology. From the collection of Paul Travers.
MyVu's ViSCOM digital eyewear from 2010. The company that developed the technology, MicroOptical, was founded in 1995 by Mark Spitzer, who is now the director of operations at Google X. From the collection of Dan Cui.
The WrapAR 920 was developed by Vuzix in 2011. The publicly traded company has been developing video eyewear for 15 years and has dozens of patents on the technology. From the collection of Paul Travers.
Unlike Google Glass, Meta's eyewear enters 3D space and uses your hands to interact with the virtual world. The Meta system includes stereoscopic 3D glasses and a 3D camera to track hand movements, similar to the portrayals of gestural control in movies like "Iron Man" and "Avatar." Meta expects to have more fashionable glasses in 2014.
Steve Mann believes that Google Glass can create eye strain. He wrote, "Google Glass and several similarly configured systems now in development suffer from another problem I learned about 30 years ago that arises from the basic asymmetry of their designs, in which the wearer views the display through only one eye. These systems all contain lenses that make the display appear to hover in space, farther away than it really is."
Wearable computers extends to orbs with camera for lifelogging and other applications. From left an camera orb from Steve Mann's lab, circa 1998; Microsoft's Sensecam from 2004; and Memoto's 2013 lifelogging camera.