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Hey Mom! Look What I Can Do! A HighRocker and his DIY AR Headset

Looking for ideas to make Mom proud this Mother's Day? If you're anything like Bryan Chris Brown, you skip right over the macaroni noodle artwork and go straight for the DIY AR headset. Yep, that's right. He recently built his own augmented reality headset, so we sat down with Bryan to get a behind the scenes look at the project.

Bryan wearing his finished AR headset

While a Virtual Reality (VR) headset blocks out the real world around the user and presents them with an entirely virtual experience, an Augmented Reality (AR) headset overlays 3D onto the real world around the user. How AR headsets interact with the real world makes them valuable for prototyping and designing user interface and experience, which is exactly why Bryan, a 3D/VR artist at HighRock, decided to build his own.

“I started with an open source design for the headset,” says Bryan. The original design was published by Leap Motion, a company that does hand-tracking, as an initiative to get people interested in their software. Bryan, like many consumers, didn’t have the money to spend on one of the two main AR headsets on the market – the Magic Leap or the Microsoft HoloLens will set you back about $3,000. On top of that, the Magic Leap isn’t compatible with Bryan’s actual prescription glasses, making it impossible for him to use them anyway. “To get around that, I could’ve bought different prescription glasses. But that would’ve cost me more than what I spent to build my own headset.”

Early prototype of AR headset with 3D printed lenses

When Bryan started building his headset, there weren’t pre-made parts that could be ordered. “You had to build your own or repurpose parts from other things,” said Bryan.  Bryan decided to repurpose a VR headset for his own AR purposes, so he bought a VR headset off of eBay and got to work. For the parts that he still needed, Bryan decided to utilize HighRock’s 3D printer to create parts that fit the internals of the headset.

Bryan had some hits and misses with the first used headset he bought. There were a lot of adjustments to be made because VR headsets feature a screen directly in front of the user, while AR headsets have screens that sit more parallel with the sides of the face to project out in front of the user. Accounting for these changes, Bryan had to ditch the first headset in favor of another VR headset off of eBay – the Samsung Odyssey. Bryan spent two days taking apart the Odyssey headset, still unsure if his plan would work. “Taking apart electronics is scary,” laughs Bryan, “There’s a lot of adhesive, and you can’t put it back together after that.” Bryan’s plan paid off, and his Odyssey headset worked perfectly.

Disassembled Samsung Odyssey Headset

Bryan’s favorite part of the project was designing parts and manufacturing them using a 3D printer. “That was fun – designing a part, then clicking print and having it in a day.” It wasn’t always so simple though; some parts were so complicated that they took 16 hours to print. Parts with small and complex parts sometimes encountered printing issues, so many parts required substantial redesign to make them easily printable. “And then you have to plug it in to make sure it works!” says Bryan.

New 3D print of AR headset

Bryan has also developed a unique connection with a group of 700+ people who are also building their own AR glasses by moderating an online community. The community initially gathered around the same open source software that Bryan used to build his glasses, but it has become more specialized. “People are figuring out how to build their own. They’re sharing what they’re doing and what works for them.”

Bryan's finished AR headset      Bryan's AR headset with the screens on

So, what’s his next step? “The hardware is finished,” Bryan said, “but I still have a lot of software development to do. All the software is for a VR headset. I’m going to have to build my own drivers for augmented reality.”

Interested in having innovators like Bryan brainstorming about your next big project? Contact HighRock today. (Mom would be proud).