If you think of high dynamic range imaging, or HDR, you probably think of crazy panoramic cityscapes or lighthouses where everything pops with impossible clarity — imagine seeing the whole world that way. These goggles let you look at everything in real-time 3-D HDR — and it's more useful than you might think.
The HDRchitecture project, by researchers at the University of Toronto, was presented earlier this month at the SIGGRAPH imaging convention in Los Angeles.
The most dramatic application the team could think of for showing off the capabilities of their system was welding, where the light from the torch is so bright that it can blind the welder if he doesn't wear a leaded-glass visor. Unfortunately, this renders the rest of the world, including his immediate surroundings, quite dark. What if you could combine the two images — the dark one that shows the torch clearly, and the light one that shows everything else?
Think of high dynamic range as wearing night-vision goggles and sunglasses at the same time, with none of the downsides. You can see highlights and shadows that would be blown out or too dark to see otherwise.
To achieve this, the team's EyeTap helmet uses a pair of cameras take multiple exposures of the same view and combine them in real time, in such a way that no part is too dark and no part is too light.
As you can see in the video, that means that the welder can clearly see not only the super-bright torch, but the hot metal it's touching and the rest of the object as well. This could greatly improve not just the quality of the welder's work, but the safety of his workshop.
The video below demonstrates the futuristic-looking helmet in a few situations; there's a good comparison at 1:45, and more everyday situations towards the end.
It's not just for welders. If the technology were developed, a driver would never be blinded by the glare of the sun, and a soldier would never miss a mine hiding in a shadow. The possibilities are really very exciting.
Of course, the device itself will have to be adapted somewhat before you can wear it in the car; it's clearly a bit bulky at the moment. But this "mediated reality," as the narrator describes it, is potentially very powerful. More information and much supporting documentation can be found at the EyeTap site, or at Road to VR.
Devin Coldewey is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. His personal website is coldewey.cc.