Product Review – Aryzon

There are many reasons why Consumer Augmented Reality has been stuck in 1st gear for the last three years. One of the key reasons is that, while world has come around to the fact that the hand-held format sucks, it hasn’t yet come up with an affordable AR headset. While a HoloLens will cost a developer $3,000, it will cost the user $5,000. Although the Magic Leap headset looks comparably affordable with a price of $2,295, it is still light years away from consumer-friendly pricing.

Because of this, you can easily see why your local museum, school, zoo or entertainment park hasn’t jumped onto the AR bandwagon. It’s simply much too expensive.  Any other design aspect, like quality, form factor, battery life or reliability doesn’t even get a chance to come into play.

Enter Aryzon

Initially released in 2017, Aryzon offers the world’s first €30 headset that you can pair with almost any mobile phone with up to a 6.5” display, to get a headset based Augmented Reality experience at approximately 1% of the developer’s price of a HoloLens. Let me repeat those numbers – €30 for an AR/MR headset, approximately 1% the price of a HoloLens. We’re not talking about half the price, not a 10th of the price, but 1/100 of the price. Aryzon states that their mission is ‘to explore knowledge in a fun and intuitive way with 3D Augmented Reality’ and emphasizes that they want to add value by being a tool and not end up as only a gadget or toy.

Suddenly, it makes sense to have a look at Augmented Reality headsets again.

Naturally, the Aryzon experience will not have the same construction, power and hardware quality that you will get with a HoloLens or Magic Leap. But this would be ridiculous to expect for a price tag of 1% of the competition.

The real question is, is the quality of the experience good enough to justify €30 for an Aryzon? The answer depends upon what you want to do with the it. In my opinion, the Aryzon is ideal of indoor applications that don’t require IMAX quality visuals.

Did I say “indoor” in that last sentence?  Yes, I did.  The Aryzon doesn’t use the classic video passthrough that most Augmented Reality apps like Pokémon Go depend upon. Rather, Aryzon projects the AR experience into a transparent screen that is placed in the user’s field of view. Because of this, too much ambient light will negatively impact the experience, which is also true for the Microsoft HoloLens.  Indoors, this is no problem because you can have full control over your lighting.  Let’s forget about using the Aryzon outdoors though, for the time being at least.

A Closer Look

Let’s take a closer look at the Aryzon and see what you get for your €30.  To begin with, Aryzon is a foldable cardboard headset.  That means that it is light weight.  But what does that say about durability?  Well, I fear that if I drop my HoloLens or Magic Leap, I run the risk of doing serious damage to the housing, which is plastic and can break. Drop your Aryzon and it will certainly crease something, but doesn’t generally break.  Your greatest risk will be to the mobile phone that is inserted into the Aryzon.

There is no escaping it. The Aryzon looks a bit funky. My normally very tolerant wife couldn’t help but let off a giggle when she saw me wearing it.  Nobody is going to be heading down 5th avenue with this on their face unless they’re seeking negative attention. But that’s okay – this is an indoor device.

How an Aryzon functions is very simple. Start an app, place your phone into the headset, close the flap and don the headset.

The headset itself seems to be pretty sturdy and managed several deliberate drops without suffering much deformation.  The things I personally very much appreciated about the design were:

Head strap – the head strap is really well done.  It is connected to the Aryzon frame via Velcro and the connection is very stable.  The top strap is also adjustable and very sturdy.

Face padding – because the Aryzon is made from cardboard, the first potential annoyance is cardboard scratching at my face.  Aryzon addresses this with a very comfortable padding that is attached to the frame via Velcro.  This not only keeps the cardboard from my face, it also helps provide a little bit of structural support for the cardboard.

Suction cups – You can tell how much a company loves their customers by the little things that they do.  Aryzon shows their love by having a small pad of 12 suction cups attached to the inside of the tray that holds your mobile phone.  The suction cups do a great job to protect the phone from falling out when the tray is opened.

There was only one portion of the design that I didn’t appreciate.  The top of the frame is folded down and has a tendency to spring back up.  This can be easily address be taping over the folds, but you need to do this before you apply the Velcro stickers that are used for attaching the head strap.

Using the Aryzon

As with most AR headsets, the Aryzon won’t work if you wear glasses.  I have to wear glasses for reading and was concerned that this would negatively impact my experience with Aryzon, but I was able to focus on the app’s content without any significant issue.

The Aryzon doesn’t have any hand-held pointing devices yet, so it determines your intent by paying attention to where you view using what is called ‘gaze interaction’.  A small white dot is used as a guide to select options with, which is trained during the calibration at the beginning.  Simply move your head to position the dot over an item and wait a second for the system to recognize your choice and respond.

Marker or Markerless?

The Aryzon can either use a marker, supplied with the headset, or operate markerless using surface detection to determine where the overlay can be placed. The markerless functionality is built off the ARKit (Apple) and ARCore (Android) foundations, so it offers all of the most modern features available for mobile phone AR experiences and promises to become increasingly robust and feature rich over time.  If you go markerless, however, it is suggested that you use a more modern phone that has built-in support for AR, giving you better battery life and a better overall AR experience.  After experimenting with both, I strongly prefer going markerless for the simple reason that it is much more reliable and, depending upon the application, allows you to rotate an overlay once it is placed.  When using the marker, I had to either rotate the marker or walk around it.  When using the marker, it is also very easy to move out of the marker’s recognition range and lose the overlay.  Some of the applications supplied by Aryzon require the use of a marker, which limits their usefulness. Comments from Aryzon on the usage of markers:

The Marker is being used for older phones and with the initial games developed for Aryzon’s release of the first versions of headsets back in 2017. Also, the Marker disk is required for good calibration, to make sure you do not see double. Newer phones use Apple’s ARKit or Google’s ARCore, which is called markerless. The surrounding surfaces are being scanned and when there is enough contrast, the experience can be positioned and fixed on the recognized surface. ARKit & ARCore require contrast in surfaces, which is something that will only be improved by Apple and Google throughout time.

Comfort

I experimented for about half an hour with all the various applications that Aryzon offers. In this time, it became clear to me that the headset can only be worn for a limited amount of time before it becomes uncomfortable.  My personal threshold was at about 15 minutes. At that point, the downward pressure on my cheeks became annoying.  I anticipate that with engaging content one could be distracted from the discomfort, but it is there nonetheless.  I imagine discomfort can be minimized by adjusting the top strap on the headset to displace some of the downward pressure on my face, but didn’t personally experiment with this. According to Night Sky Odyssey, thousands of people in Canada are using the Aryzon Headsets in National Geographic’s first open air Augmented Reality planetarium for a longer period of time, with amazed reactions to it.

Field of View

It is probably no surprise that the width and height of the field of view are a direct function of the mobile phone form factor. Specifically, the field of view is wide, but not very high. While it is very possible to create apps that take advantage of the width, I don’t quite know how one would deal with the height.  If you have overlays that are tall, such as the depiction of a comparatively tall object, then you run the risk of quickly losing the overlay as you look up and away from your marker or surface. Aryzon notes that their headsets have a larger vertical and horizontal field of view than the Microsoft HoloLens V1. For Aryzon headsets, the FOV depends on the smartphone being used – simply, the bigger the screen, the larger the FOV.

Display Quality

I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the overlays were presented. The first concern I had when I learned that Aryzon projected the overlay on a transparent screen was that the projected objects would be washed out and easily lost to the background.  This wasn’t the case at all.  The overlays displayed on the Aryzon were crisp and very visible, comparable to, and perhaps in some cases better than, the quality of display I experienced with the HoloLens, which also projects an overlay on a transparent screen but costs about 100 times as much.

Playing nice with HoloLens

One of the most annoying aspects regarding AR technology at this point in time is that everything has its own ecosystem.  Things developed for Magic Leap can only be used on Magic Leap, etc.  The lack of standards is, in my opinion, on of the most significant hinderances to the development, thus adoption, of AR.  Ideally, you should be able to develop an AR app and it would run on any device, similar to what we’ve grown to expect from browsers and smartphone apps. Standardization drives adoption and we are long overdue for the AR vendors to fully understand and embrace this.

Although we haven’t quite hit the nirvana of full app interoperability, Aryzon has recently become a Microsoft-partner and can now share overlays with the HoloLens.  Essentially what this means is that you can use the HoloLens for controlling the 3D experience and the Aryzon headsets can experience it from their own perspective. This automatically leverages all of the HoloLens applications available and is a great advantage for educational institutions and others who may have the technical depth to create great AR experiences, but not the deep pockets to buy all the HoloLens headsets needed to ensure that everyone in the class gets to take advantage of those experiences.

What I find most valuable about the HoloLens implementation is that the Aryzon user doesn’t just see a screen cast of the HoloLens, they get to experience the overlay in its 3D entirety, walking around and exploring it just like the HoloLens user, even remotely.  Aryzon provides an interesting video as an example: https://youtu.be/c-gm4Zxk0Do

The Aryzon Ecosystem

I can easily see a myriad of AR applications that are now economically viable due to the Aryzon pricing, but Aryzon is faced with a significant challenge. Even though they have a partnership that allows them to work with HoloLens, they are still facing an uphill battle to drive enough adoption so that they can survive selling a €30 headset. While VR headsets sold about 8M units in 2018, AR headsets languished at under 1M.

The primary reasons for the low adoption of AR headsets were the relatively high cost of headsets and the very few apps that could use them. Aryzon has nailed the price issue, but they need to drive app development and market awareness.  Aryzon has worked very hard and created, amongst others, a Unity SDK that allows every app developer to create their own 3D AR apps for the Aryzon headset or add the 3D functionality to current 2D AR apps. Aryzon notes that “By partnering with many parties throughout the world, people can increasingly do more and more with the Aryzon headsets. Learning how to dance the Cha-cha-cha via partner Dance Reality or from another “Aryzon-hero” learning how to play your favorite songs on the piano with the Aryzon Headsets. In Germany a girl even created an application letting you learn how to cook your new recipe.”

Aryzon supplies three apps to start your experimentation with.

Aryzon – The main Aryzon app which includes the folding instructions of the Aryzon, the calibration process, and a showcase with 6 AR experiences.

Aryzon AR Studio – The Aryzon AR Studio lets you import your own 3D models to view in your real world environment in true volumetric 3D with the Aryzon Headset or just in 2D AR mode, like Pokémon-GO. You can also download 3D models from the platforms Sketchfab (requires an account) and Google Poly directly inside the app. The app allows you to scale, rotate and place your 3D model realistically in your environment. Once placed, you can move around and examine the 3D model from every angle.

This app is good for testing out an object’s scale in a real AR environment for product designers, architects and 3D artists. Additionally, any textures and/or animations can be embedded to the 3D model and can be viewed with this application. The free version is limited to 3 local models and a premium version is available, which gives you unlimited library slots and other minor features.  

Multi-Maze – The Multi-maze is a simple maze-box game that has been brought into AR. Navigate the ball through a series of progressively challenging levels and test your spatial awareness in this gravity based maze game.

The apps that are supplied by Aryzon can be downloaded from their web site, Apple Store or Google Play. Some of them are marker based and Aryzon provides a marker with the headset. AR Studio supports smartphones that are capable of running ARCore and ARKit, to ensure a good user experience with the app.

I experimented using an iPhone 5s and an Asus Zenfone AR. The apps quickly consumed the battery in my iPhone 5S and made it warm to the touch, but all AR apps I’ve ever tested have done that with this particular iPhone.  The Zenfone battery lasted throughout the testing with tons to spare.

I first experimented with the Aryzon app.  Upon activating the app, you have the option of looking at instructions for folding the headset, calibrating the headset or starting the AR experiences.

The calibration routine ties the app to the version of the headset by scanning a QR Code on the headset and then ensures that it can recognize the marker you are using.  After calibrating you can run the AR app. Once you select the AR app, you simply place your phone in the headset and close the cover. When you flip up and close the cover, the bifocal mode is started. Personally, I would like a vertical line at the startup that orients what the app feels is the center of the screen.  This would make it a little easier to ensure that when the phone is placed, it gets the best positioning for display.

Once you have your phone in the headset and are wearing the headset, the app will start a small instruction set regarding pointing at a variety of objects.  What it doesn’t tell you is that you should point at the objects that have swirling lines around them.  It waits for you to discover this on your own.

Once the app is satisfied that you know how to point, it will ask for you to place the marker, which is done simply by putting the marker on the floor and staring at it. Aryzon recommends the use of markerless via ARKit and ARCore, but for the older phones they support in this app also marker-based, but has obviously a lesser experience.  The marker generally works well in normal daylight conditions, but becomes difficult during the evening or on an overcast day when the marker’s contrast is not clearly visible. If you are operating markerless, it works very well as long as there is enough contrast in the surfaces to position the AR experience. If you move your head to a position where the marker is outside your field of view, then the overlay will be removed.  I had difficulties working with the Aryzon at night because I had to get very close to the marker for it to be recognized and once it was recognized I was too close to see the full overlay.  When I moved away from the marker to get a better view of the overlay, the marker was lost and the overlay vanished.  Thus, I stuck with the more modern and reliable markerless experiences for my testing. Not only was the experience more flexible, the overlays were perfectly maintained no matter where they were relative to the device’s field of view.

The Aryzon AR Studio was an interesting 3D model showcase tool where the quality of the Aryzon display really came through. What I liked about this app was the fact that a marker was not required and it would even allow for mid-air displays and rotating the overlay. Once ARKit / ARCore find a proper surface, the app lets you rotate and size the model as you like and lock it onto the surface.

Finally, I wanted to have fun with Multi-Maze, but because I didn’t want to fry my iPhone’s battery again, I loaded the Android version, called minigames. The app is a collection of very simple games and was used as a visualization showcase for their successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2017.  Their development efforts in the meantime have gone towards developing AR Studio and supporting modern AR technologies.

Conclusion

All in all, I have to say that I think the Aryzon has a very good start at getting affordable AR headsets into the hands of the masses.  I don’t envision anyone adopting the Aryzon for home use yet, but certainly see benefits to be had by institutions like museums, schools and others who would like to use AR headset functionality in their work, but have been hamstrung by the cost of HoloLens, Magic Leap and others. Aryzon does a great job in making themselves accessible by providing an SDK with hooks into Unity and by linking up with the HoloLens.  Right now, in my opinion, they need to market, market and market to those most likely adopters.

What’s to like

  • €30 price tag – about 1% the price of a conventional AR headset
  • €15 version available without head strap and face cushion
  • Interoperability with HoloLens
  • High quality display of overlays
  • SDK with Unity plug-in
  • High quality design aspects – solid head strap, comfortable face padding, suction cups
  • Customizable with your own logos and colors
  • Better Field of View than Microsoft HoloLens V1
  • Uses the (upgradeable) hardware in your pocket, the smartphone.
  • Using Vuforia and/or ARKit & ARCore for positioning

What’s to not like

  • Small vertical Field of View
  • Limited comfort
  • Marker recognition is not very reliable in poor lighting conditions