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I Saw What Could Be the Future of AI Glasses

A team of scientists at Stanford designed a pair of normal-looking glasses that display full-color 3D images.

Andy Altman Director of Video Production
Andy Altman is a producer covering all things science and tech. He led production on CNET's award-winning limited documentary series Hacking the Apocalypse. He also created and co-hosts our video series What the Future.
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Andy Altman
2 min read

I'm in a lab at Stanford University to see a pair of pretty normal-looking glasses. Thanks to a breakthrough scientists here made in display technology, these glasses could represent the future of VR and AR headsets.

I'm in a lab at Stanford University to see a pair of pretty normal-looking glasses. Thanks to a breakthrough scientists here made in display technology, these glasses could represent the future of VR and AR headsets.

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Prototype of the compact augmented reality glasses.

John Kim/CNET

Led by associate professor Gordon Wetzstein, the team at Stanford's Computational Imaging Lab designed a way to project moving, AI-generated 3D images on what appear to be standard lenses. The breakthrough centers on what the team calls a nanophotonic metasurface waveguide (a waveguide essentially being a piece of glass). Watch the video above to see what those images look like.

"It's a fancy term to say there's a bunch of tiny optical elements embedded in the glass surface that help guide the light into and out of the waveguide." Wetzstein told CNET.

Though I can't actually try on the prototype, I am allowed to hold the glasses while they're attached to a model human head. Combined, the glasses and model weigh about half a pound, less than half the weight of the Apple Vision Pro. (To be clear, the Vision Pro is a mixed reality headset, which uses cameras to show the user the real world on a screen in front of their eyes.)

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The waveguide illuminated by a laser.

Andrew Brodhead

"What we're thinking about is to provide a perceptually realistic experience that is very similar to the real world." said Wetzstein. "And the vision is to go towards something that is indistinguishable from a real object."

Though VR and AR are generally associated with gaming and entertainment, the potential uses for this type of technology stretch far beyond those areas. "One could imagine a surgeon wearing such glasses to plan a delicate or complex surgery or airplane mechanic using them to learn to work on the latest jet engine," said Manu Gopakumar, a doctoral student who helped design and build the prototype.

The model hasn't been tested on human eyes yet, but Wetzstein says that would be one of the next steps, along with making the glasses more compact and power efficient.