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AR glasses ‘make non-wearers feel powerless’

Being around someone who is wearing augmented reality (AR) glasses can feel weird and disempowering. This is the finding of a new study by Cornell University.

Researchers at the university in New York state looked into the effect ‘smart’ glasses have on those who find themselves in the vicinity of the wearer.

The research team observed a power imbalance, and while the wearers of AR glasses described feeling less anxious, those on the receiving end of their gaze were not so happy about the experience.

Researchers from the Cornell Ann S. Bowers College of Computing and Information Science and Brown University observed five pairs of individuals – a wearer and a non-wearer – as each pair discussed a desert survival activity.

The wearer put on AR glasses prototype on loan from Snap Inc., equipped with a video camera and five custom filters that transformed the non-wearer into a deer, cat, bear, clown or pig-bunny.

Following the activity, the participants were interviewed about their experiences.

According to the wearers, the fun filters reduced their anxiety and put them at ease during the exercise. The non-wearers, however, reported feeling disempowered because they didn’t know what was happening on the other side of the lenses.

They said they didn’t like how the filters robbed them of control over their own appearance and were unsettled by possibility that the wearer could be secretly recording them without consent.

Like many AR glasses, the ones used in the study had darkened lenses, which the researchers said degraded the quality of the social interaction.

There is no direct eye contact, which makes people very confused, because they don’t know where the person is looking,” Jenny Fu a Cornell doctoral student in the field of information science and one of the lead researchers on the study. “That makes their experiences of this conversation less pleasant, because the glasses blocked out all these nonverbal interactions.”

The findings of the study will be used to try and improve design of AR glasses, Cornell said.