The quest for pervasive displays in times of wearables @PerDis2018

Munich, June 6-8:  the Seventh ACM International Symposium on Pervasive Displays (PerDis) just happened, a small, but critically important conference brought to life by a handful of “true believer” type of people, this year Prof. Albrecht Schmidt and his team at the Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich.


Why do I say “critically important” ? Because it fosters research to counter-balance what can be regarded as the current technological “local optimum” in AR/VR/XR, namely near-field display technology. Most mainstream VR/AR currently focuses on technology that works close to the human eye (near-field): VR headsets like Oculus, AR see-through displays (HoloLens, Meta) and prospectively retina micro-projection and BCI (Brain-Computer Interfaces). All these technologies are useful and have important applications as we speak. They have also been euphorically claimed to be the pinnacle of what can, and should, be achieved in terms of bridging the digital to the physical, with some people in the field prophesying a “display-less world” in a matter of decades (meaning that only near-eye displays will exist).

However, technologies bridging the digital to physical “out there” in the physical world – far-field 2D and 3D displays – have several unique desirable properties: (1) they are intrinsically shared and social (although more research is needed to develop meaningful interactions in shared display environments, as pointed in the keynote by Prof. Nigel Davis at PerDis 2018) (2) don’t require any awkward human augmentation with wearable devices and (3) they allow a probably healthy degree of control over the “over-virtualization” of the physical world – the unforeseeable negative effects that might arise from replacing physical reality with a 100% controlled digital environment in which everything happens “at will”.

Thus, they must have their own place in our digital development. I would argue that the main reason for the industry’s focus on wearable, near-field display technology today is because it is significantly easier (albeit not by any means trivial !) to implement “immersively” than truly pervasive displays (“anything is a display”), 3D holograms and immersive display environments. That’s why I think of wearable displays as a “local optimum”: given sufficient advance in far-field technology, it would be probably preferable to near-field due to the reasons exposed above.

Long-term, thus, we can expect to see a shift towards far-field displays and one key problem to solve by research is meaningful interaction. As we demoed at PerDis2018, neARtracker technology turning smartphones into tangible interfaces is a powerful tool to use with the additional opportunity of using the smartphone’s display as a “magic lens”. The video below exemplifies this setup on a cultural heritage application: the virtual reconstruction of a lost garden in Sansoucci, Potsdam. The paper in which we’re discussing, among other things, where technology could head to in the future under the title “An 1834 Mediterranean Garden in Berlin: Engaged from 2004, 2018, 2032, and 2202” is also available in the Proceedings of PerDis2018.