Forget augmented reality, diminished reality is coming for your face (and your glasses)

Fittingbox "diminished reality" concept
(Image credit: Fittingbox)

Sure, technology can add great things to our lives, enhancing our ability to understand the world around us and be better versions of ourselves. Yet too few people celebrate the many ways tech can take that all away from us. Good news! No more will we live this wondrous world of plenty! Introducing Diminished Reality, where all that good stuff is sucked away, leaving the boring, plain meatspace we all lived before Pokemon Go and augmented reality transported us somewhere magical -- call it 1971, if you will.

Just kidding! Instead, Diminished Reality is an intriguing offshoot of augmented reality, being shown off at CES 2022 for the first time by a French "digital eyewear" company called Fittingbox. The company uses the tech not to layer new stuff over the existing world but to remove stuff from the real world -- in this case, to let you try on new eyewear without removing your existing glasses.

“Our mission has always been to develop more immersive solutions through technology,” said Fittingbox CEO and Co-Founder, Benjamin Hakoun. “To date we have generated more than 95 million virtual try-ons in 2021, and we produce the largest 3D frames and photo database in the world, accounting for around 120k digital frames.”

Anyone who wears eyeglasses (roughly 600 million of us) instantly understands the problem Fittingbox is trying to solve: A visit to the store to try on new eyeglasses is inevitably a blurry experience, since to see yourself in a new pair means removing that which allows us to see in the first place. Using this database, that’s gone: Simply open the app, point the selfie camera at your face, and raise and lower the screen to flip between different frames. Find one you and like and Fittingbox is happy to sell it to you.

Sure, it’s a specific and arguably somewhat limited application for the technology. But it raises an interesting point about augmented reality, which almost always attempts to add to the world around us, rather than simply enhance the world around us. Sometimes, enhancement means removing the distractions, as augmented reality hearing aids do, amplifying the voice of the person across the dinner table from us and cutting out the noise from the restaurant, to let us really be in the moment.

Diminished reality could be applied in other ways, as well. Highlighting the person you’re meeting in a crowd via a big arrow overhead (and maybe their latest Tweet) is a common trope of augmented reality. Imagine instead if the rest of the crowd were turned down a bit -- blurred out or removed altogether, to ensure you don’t miss your date.

Diminished reality has potential, in other words. Just don’t bump into all those missing faces.

Jeremy Kaplan
Content Director, TechRadar

After 25 years covering the technology industry, Jeremy Kaplan is a familiar face in the media world. As Content Director for TechRadar, he oversees product development and quality. He was formerly Editor in Chief of Digital Trends, where he transformed a niche publisher into one of the fastest growing properties in digital media. Before that, he spent half a decade at one of the largest news agencies in the world, and cut his teeth in magazine business, long before the birth of the iPhone. In 2019, he was named to the FOLIO: 100, which honors publishing professionals making an industry-wide impact.