Despite the underwhelming response to Google Glass and the overwhelming hype surrounding various VR headsets, it’s pretty safe to say that the future of head-mounted displays is very bright. And while most folks are excited about the gaming potential of immersive displays like the Oculus Rift, I think that transparent Augmented Reality displays like Microsoft’s HoloLens will get more overall use, simply because they can be used for more things.
However, all of these displays seem too expensive, too big, too delicate, and too early in development to have any apps for your personal job. I’d love to have a little screen sitting just under my right eye showing me my emails, camera viewfinder, CNC machine terminal, caliper display, and so on, but that technology is a little far off, and who knows how useful it would actually be in day-to-day practice? I think it’s worth building something that’s a little simpler to implement for the sake of experimentation.
I think that someone should build a basic Bluetooth headset with a little microphone boom which has a multi-color LED on the end. I don’t think it would need to be much longer than two inches to get that flashing LED into the wearer’s peripheral vision (try this yourself with a tiny LED and let me know what you find), and little plastic prism would direct the light toward the eye and away from other folks.
Obviously, this light is not a screen, but it would cost pennies to add to a Bluetooth headset, and it wouldn’t need complicated optics or perfect eyeball alignment. It couldn’t show screens of data, but a light blinking different colors at different speeds could communicate a lot of information. If the light is paired to my phone, it could give me notifications for incoming messages and calls, or flash the different colors for left and right turns from my GPS directions. If that phone app connected to a service like IFTTT, it could blink to tell me when a render is finished, or a CNC cut is done. If you knew Morse code, it could do anything!
Now, Heidi pointed out a question that some of you might be asking by now: If you already have a Bluetooth speaker in your ear, why not get these notifications audibly instead of visually? I tried to explain to her that in a noisy environment or a conversation, a visual clue would be instantly noticeable and harder to overlook, but while I was describing that, I overlooked a road sign and missed my turn.
So this blinkenlight device that I’ve drawn up is probably more of an experimental display platform than the old Bluetooth earpiece’s new killer app. It has got a few interesting design features, though, like horizontal symmetry so it can be used in either ear, a microphone array with good linear separation to provide better noise reduction, and pocket clip so you can easily carry it with the LED visible even when it’s not in your ear.