Mira, From <$20 Fishbowl To New Mario Kart Ride at Universal Japan (In About 4 years)
Today I want to congratulate Mira Reality, a little over 4-year-old startup. Mira has seen their AR headset designed into a major theme park attraction at Universal Studios Japan. The theme park opened Nintendo World on Feb 4th, 2021, with a Mario Kart dark ride that uses Mira’s AR Headset to mix virtual images with video screens and sets within the rest of the attraction. A ride-through video can be seen here. Below is a screen-shot from the video.
Figuring that a major theme park attraction takes many years to develop, Mira must have been only a year or two old when they got the design win.
Maybe Universal Took the Advice I Gave to Disney
I first wrote about Mira back in 2017 in the article Mira Prism and Dreamworld AR – (What Disney Should Have Done?). Disney had just released a Star Wars headset and lightsaber and I wrote that they should have gone with something simpler like Mira’s headset. I find it interesting that Universal, Disney’s arch-rival and which must have been in the design of Mario Karts at the time, decided to use Mira. I don’t know there is a connection, but the timing is about right.
Starting with a Cut-Up Fishbowl
Two months after writing the Mira/Disney article in 2017, I visited Mira’s headquarters in Los Angeles. They not only showed me their finished headset, but they also showed me how they built their first prototype.
Mira bought a wall hanging clear acrylic fishbowl for the prototype and cut it up to make the curved mirrors/combiners. They found a company to partially mirror coat the insides of the cut-up sections of the fishbowl and glued them together (see below)—a far cry from the 3+Billion dollars spent by Magic Leap.
Mira has entrepreneurs after my own heart. In 2013, I hacked together Navdy’s first prototype (and then much copied) aftermarket automotive hud in my garage (see the Appendix of this article on HUDs and photo on the right).
Think about it. Mira when from a cut-up fishbowl (less than $20 on Amazon) to a design win at a major theme park in less than 2 years. I often say that it is sad that today in AR that so much money is going to the hucksters like Magic Leap.
Mira’s Design Seems to be a Great Match for a Theme Park Attraction
My first thought was that Mira’s design is a great match for the Mario Kart ride. The Mario Kart ride headset has three main parts, 1) the headband with cap, 2) a cell-phone sized display with connection to the video, and 3) the curved combiner. The original Mira design had the combiner held in magnetically.
The design is simple and low cost to make while affording huge eye relief so that anyone with glasses can wear them (see right). The Mira design also has a huge eye box, so that alignment is not critical. The eye relief and eyebox are critical to having a practical design in an application where you are fitting thousands of people an hour.
The combiner is inexpensive, trival to replace, and made of plastic. Minor scratches are not going to significantly degrade the image quality. It is unlikely to brake and will not be a serious safety hazard if it does break.
While in line, the rider puts on the adjustable headband (only). Only as the rider gets to the vehicle is the display inserted into the headband followed by the clipping on the curved combiner. The way the whole thing can be broken down into pieces also means it should be easier to sanitize, even more important in this era. The headband and combiner can be swapped out and cleaned as is done with 3-D glasses.
As it is an off-axis curved combiner, the image will be distorted, but it is not going to matter much for this type of application, and they can pre-correct the image. Other than distortion, the image quality is going to be good. Being indoors, the display does not have to be very bright. And being that you are on a theme park ride, it does not have to look like ordinary glasses. In short, it leverages the strengths and is not hurt by the weakness of Mira’s AR display technology.
Should Be the Start of a New Trend
I see so many AR headsets used in applications that make me shake my head. It is so nice to see one where the fit between the requirement and technology are so well matched. I expect we will be seeing this approach copied not only in other Universal Nintendo Lands around the world but in other attractions.
Fans of this Blog
BTW, I was much honored by the folks at Mira with a “fan” picture they sent me back in 2018.
Closing – Lots to Write About
I have so much to write about that I hardly know where to start. Hopefully, the inspiration from Mira will be the start of a trend.