The patent is for a headset, eyepiece, and microphone combination, similar in appearance to the night-vision equipment worn by military pilots, that will allow the user to perceive virtual reality in games and other applications.
The patent describes "a compact, robust, optical arrangement." It notes that the setup "may be used in applications ranging from video games to aviation." The application was filed in September 2010, but was only spotted this week by the blog PatentBolt.
It notes that the glasses could be detached and worn as everyday headwear and would allow the user to see the world in augmented reality when viewed through certain smartphone applications. "These configurations enable the wearer to view images from a computer, media player, or other electronic device with privacy and mobility," the application states.
[ Augmented reality goggles aren't without pitfalls. See 7 Potential Problems With Google's Glasses. ]
Microsoft hasn't commented on how it intends to use the technology, but one obvious use is as a 3-D system for Xbox games. When combined with the Kinect motion sensor, the equipment could provide the basis for fully immersive video gaming.
Beyond that, however, Microsoft has indicated that it sees applications for virtual reality and hands-free computing in commercial applications like engineering and healthcare. A number of organizations have also developed augmented reality applications for use on smartphones for special events such as the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Microsoft isn't alone in seeing the commercial potential of virtual and augmented reality. Google last month said it is working on goggles that would allow users to view augmented reality through compatible applications on Android-based smartphones. The glasses are designed to work with GPS and other location-based technologies, as well as with input from smartphone cameras and microphones.
Apple, for its part, filed for a patent in 2010 on glasses that would allow the user to watch 3-D, high-definition video on their iPhones and iPads. The glasses, nicknamed "iSpecs," have not yet come into production.
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