Welding Goggles Augment Reality with One Hundred Million to One Contrast Ratio

By Wesley Fenlon

Real-time HDR video processing makes it possible for welders to see what they're melting, even as they're staring at the incredible bright tip of an arc welder.

While Google works to make its augmented reality glasses look as normal as a regular ol' pair of frames, these augmented reality welding goggles look like they belong at a particularly creepy steampunk convention or in the dark fantasy world of Phil Tippett's Mad God. Of course, welding goggles have incredible amounts of light to contend with. As welding torches heat up to thousands of degrees, they actually emit ultraviolet radiation that can burn skin (just like the sun) or injure the eye, which is why modern goggles use sensors to drastically dial down the amount of light actually reaching a welder's eyes. Problem: This protects the eyes, but can make it awfully hard to see whatever it is that needs welding.

High-tech welding goggles with a 100,000,000-1 contrast ratio could provide both protection and the valuable ability to see the surface of whatever's being welded. The goggles process high dynamic range video at 120 frames per second, in the same way an iPhone or DSLR will capture multiple exposures of a scene and combine them to reveal the detail in the darkest shadows and brightest highlights. Except, well, these goggles do it much more quickly.

Two cameras mounted in the front of the goggles created an HDR, stereoscopic 3D image. By processing the video from each camera in real-time and feeding the eyes an image with a 100,000,000-1 contrast ratio, the goggles can provide far more visible detail around the tip of the welding torch than traditional goggles. In theory.

HDR is a handy tool for photographers, but this is a practical, potentially even industry-changing use of the technology. But man, are those goggles scary. The white paper explaining the algorithmic video processing doesn't help, either, with phrases like "battery-operated head-worn circuit board." The goggle's creators hope to miniaturize their technology enough to embed it in ordinary eyeglasses, which would definitely be a new look for welders.