Qualcomm’s new AR chips point to a new generation of smart glasses

Among recent increase In VR headsets, Qualcomm’s latest chip announcement suggests that the next wave of products could be AR glasses. At the company’s recent chip-focused event, the most recent Snapdragon phone processors have been announced, along with a brand new line of AR glasses-optimized chips pointing to a next wave of advanced smart glasses expected to arrive between 2023 and 2025, with possible features including eye tracking, hand tracking, and wireless streaming to phones or from the cloud.

The Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 is a different type of platform than the company’s high-end XR2 processor, which is already in standalone VR headsets like the Meta Quest 2 And Peak 4. The AR2 focuses more on camera- and sensor-based processing than graphics, aiming to improve battery life on smaller goggles. The design is split into three co-processors, which are expected to live in each arm of a pair of smartglasses and also above the deck. It is intended to reduce cables and reduce heat build-up on future eyewear designs.

Glasses using the AR2 Gen 1 could be much faster at using cameras for scanning and depth sensing: Qualcomm is promising faster AI for things like object recognition and hand tracking than even to the XR2 chip found in headphones like the Quest 2, but using half as much power as the XR2 chip. There’s nowhere to hide a large battery on a regular pair of glasses, which is why the AR2 Gen 1 aims to be efficient in ways that are reminiscent of the needs of wearables like smartwatches.

AR2 Gen 1 chips are designed to spread across the AR goggles, living in each arm and bridge for reduced bulk and heat.

Qualcomm

The AR2 Gen 1 chip will not be used for traditional VR headsets. According to Qualcomm, the resolution and field of view in AR glasses using these new chips won’t be as good as what current VR is capable of. Existing AR glasses and headsets tend to have smaller viewing areas and rely on occasional pop-up graphics, as opposed to the expansive, full-screen graphics and displays that VR needs.

Qualcomm relies heavily on phones, computers, and the cloud to do much of the heavy lifting for these future glasses. The chipset includes Wi-Fi 7 and a range of phones with Snapdragon chips from Qualcomm and Snapdragon Spaces software platform could be used to wirelessly process the AR graphics for these glasses. Essentially they are wearable peripherals, although the glasses could do some things on their own as well.

Eye tracking on the goggles comes with support for iris authentication, which is handled on the goggles with a dedicated security chip. However, how it is used by other manufacturers remains to be seen.

Qualcomm has already announced a wave of household tech names that are on board to make AR glasses with the AR2 chip, including Lenovo, LG, Niantic, NReal, Oppo, Pico, NTT Qonoq, Rokid, Sharp, TCL, Vuzix and Mi . Microsoft and Adobe are also working on making their software platforms compatible with each other, which mirrors recent partnership news with Meta earlier this year.

Partnerships are needed, especially for devices like smart glasses that are trying to be useful tools in a world of already well-connected phones, computers, wearables and smart home devices. Microsoft has already announced a partnership with Qualcomm on future AR glasses chips earlier this yearand the AR2 Gen 1 looks like it will be part of that evolution beyond the expensive, business-focused HoloLens 2.

Qualcomm has previously worked on chips for existing AR headsets and smart glasses, including the Real lightby Lenovo Think about reality A3 and of Meta Ray-Ban Stories. However, Qualcomm’s XR head Hugo Swart indicated in a briefing with reporters that current efforts haven’t been good enough to run long enough on a single battery charge to be of any use. (Battery life on almost all existing VR and AR headsets tends to be under 2 hours at best.)

Dreams of the metaverse are, for the time being, held back by hardware and software alike. While VR headsets are slowly adding augmented reality-like features using passthrough cameras, as in the Meta Quest Prothere is no all-day AR glasses that are actually nothing goodalthough some headsets like the Magic jump 2 they’re trying to get close to being useful for practical business uses. Perhaps Meta, which has been promising its own AR glasses for years, will also lean on the AR2 Gen 1 for a future product.

There is still nothing available that resembles the eyewear technology science fiction writers have dreamed of for decades. Qualcomm’s new chips may not lead to perfect AR glasses, but these chips could lead to improved wireless glasses of the kind that didn’t exist before. Perhaps this wave of Gen 1 AR2-enabled glasses could be the start of the true AR glasses we’ve been waiting for.

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