- A new design aims to make augmented reality (AR) glasses slender and fashionable enough for more people to wear.
- Qualcomm’s new AR platform has a processor that’s 40% smaller than previous designs.
- One expert says that making great AR software will be just as crucial as sleek designs.
You might soon be able to buy a pair of augmented reality (AR) glasses that you'll actually want to wear.
Qualcomm has unveiled a new Snapdragon AR2 Gen 1 platform that’s built with slim AR glasses in mind. The company hopes to trim down the form factor of current AR and mixed reality headsets like the bulky Meta Quest Pro. Experts say manufacturers must overcome a steep dork factor before AR glasses go mainstream.
“The AR glasses must be untethered, lightweight, comfortable, and attractive enough for users to wear throughout the day yet powerful enough to deliver exceptional and valuable experiences,” Jason Yim, the CEO of Trigger XR, a mixed reality agency, told Lifewire in an email interview.
Qualcomm says its new design for chips and other computer components is purpose-built for augmented reality, an interactive experience that combines the real world and computer-generated content. The company claims that the central processor is 40% smaller, and the overall platform delivers 2.5x better AI performance while consuming 50% less power.
"We built Snapdragon AR2 to address the unique challenges of head-worn AR and provide industry-leading processing, AI, and connectivity that can fit inside a stylish form factor," Hugo Swart, vice president of XR product management, Qualcomm, said in the news release.
Critical to hardware success will be content and software development, as users will not buy glasses if they don't offer utility at any time and everywhere.
Damir First, the co-founder of Matterless Studios, which creates AR experiences, told Lifewire via email that designing AR glasses is a unique challenge different from building a VR headset or a hybrid mixed reality (MR) headset like Meta’s Quest Pro. He said the glasses need to consume as little power as possible and not get too hot. Also, the eye-tracking sensors and cameras need to keep track of a lot of complex input, including eye movement, foveated rendering, and iris authentication.
To render high-resolution graphics, the glasses need to use external computational power, First said. This processing may be done locally by connecting a smartphone or remotely via the cloud.
"Some producers, like Nreal, opted to have a wire tethered to a mobile device," First added. "Having a thick wire connected to your phone might sound like a cool cyberpunk idea, but there are very few people who would wear one of these daily. All of these affect the form factor of the glasses themselves; they make them bulky, cumbersome to wear, and strange-looking. Slim AR glasses are the holy grail of mainstream adoption."
Most users should not rush out to buy current AR glasses, Nick Cambata, the chief operating officer of eXeX, a company that makes augmented reality healthcare training tools, told Lifewire in an email.
"In the industrial space, we have the heavyweights such as the Microsoft HoloLens 2 and the Magic Leap 2," he said. "However, those are, in fact, heavyweights. They're better right now for industrial and commercial uses. On the consumer side, you have things like the Snap spectacles, but these really don't project AR imagery in the way the others do. That's why what Qualcomm has created is an exciting leap forward for the industry and for companies such as eXeX, which are looking for possibilities like this."
Glasses of the Future
If Qualcomm succeeds in its mission to make slim AR glasses, they could become something you'll see people wearing in their daily lives, some observers predict.
Cambata said that he expects AR designs to get slimmer and for the battery life to increase. He noted that one method to keep the glasses small is to offload as much of the graphical processing to a phone, so some companies may choose this route.
"Whether it's built into your reading glasses, sunglasses, specialized goggles for sports or work, or even built into your contact lens, eventually true AR will be everywhere, and we won't think twice about it," Cambata said. "Again, much in the same way that everyone expects you to have a cell phone. The future is super bright for AR."
Once the technology evolves for AR glasses, you will see a vast proliferation of different aesthetic designs to match individual styles, Yim said. "But critical to hardware success will be content and software development, as users will not buy glasses if they don't offer utility at any time and everywhere," he added.