Right now the divide between the real world and the digital world is pretty clear cut.

You’re either looking around your physical environment, interacting with people and objects. Or you’re staring at a screen. It’s sort of a mutually exclusive relationship.

Meet the company that could change that. Meta has created an augmented reality headset.

Unlike virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, which totally immerses you in a digital world, augmented reality glasses allow you to view the physical world around you with a virtual overlay.

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Here’s how it works: Two different cameras – one colour, and one infrared – map out the real world in front of you. The lens contains two transparent glass screens that sit right in front of your eyes. Meta’s software projects the digital content onto these screens. Stereo microphones and an inertial measurement unit round out a suite of sensors that record your environment and track your movement through it.

Meta was founded just last November. It already has a developer’s kit out on the market. And it’s completed a Series A fundraising round. Meta might be based in California, but it’s got a Canadian connection.

“Steve Mann is out of the leading luminaries in this space,” says Brendan Works, product manager for Meta. “A lot of students were inspired by him, including our CTO Ray Lo… he was one of the founders of the company and he just started walking around the streets of Toronto wearing a headset he made himself. He inspired some of the company co-founders and the rest is history.”

Meta is moving quickly, but this hardware is in its early stages. It’s focused on building a developer community that can help create solutions for specific markets. One early adopter of the AR headset is likely to be manufacturers in the aerospace industry. When the margin for error on the parts you’re designing is zero, having the ability to simulate a part before you make it could save a lot of time and money.

Any other profession that requires a lot of tinkering in Auto CAD will probably be interested in this.

“It would be a way to show a client what a building would look like, but also during the construction process you could render different systems, show the HVAC systems, show the sheathing, show the building in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” Works says.

It’s great to think about the useful applications of augmented reality. But I just have to say that wearing this thing was really cool. I was manipulating floating holograms while interacting with the real environment around me. I felt like Tony Stark in Ironman.

And that’s no coincidence, since Meta actually hired the guy that made the graphics for that movie to create its user interface.

“When we realized we were going to design a 3D user interface that no one had ever seen before, it was obvious we were going to go with someone like Jayce Hansen,” Works says. “So users will no longer just see it in movies, it’ll be something you can have and experiment with on your own.”

Sign me up. Now I just need a flying suit and I’ll be ready to join The Avengers.

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