5G to usher in new designs for AR glasses

5G to usher in new designs for AR glasses

Feature articles |
By Jean-Pierre Joosting

Augmented Reality AR glasses have had a chequered past, not least with Google Glass development system back in 2013. Google Glass is still going as an enterprise system, as are several from companies such as Vuzix.

These are often tethered to a PC to provide training and greater interaction in remote situations, which has been increasingly important during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as provide the ability to see up to five large screens in a single field of view.

By 2030, IDTechEx predicts the augmented, virtual, and mixed reality market to be over $30bn. With Covid-19 limiting physical interaction, virtual communication and interaction will be the norm for many years to come, says the market researcher. This potential has not been lost on component suppliers such as TDK and STMicroelectronics as well as Qualcomm with the Snapdragon XR chip platform for smart AR glasses.

But CES 2021 perhaps shows a move to consumer systems as 5G wireless has sufficiently low latency and high data bandwidth to potentially replace the cable tether.

The Vuzix Next Generation Smart Glasses (NGSG)  has received three CES 2021 Innovation Awards, in Computer Peripherals & Accessories, Portable Media Players & Accessories and Wearable Technologies.

The Next Generation Smart Glasses, coming later in 2021, will combine most smartphone and smartwatch capabilities in a pair of glasses.

“Vuzix has been working on wearable display technology for the last 20 years and we are excited to announce this culmination of breakthroughs in the development of our technology that opens the door for a new wave of consumer and enterprise smart glasses devices from Vuzix. A balance of technology, style and substance is embodied in the industrial design and specifications of our Next Generation Smart Glasses,” said Paul Travers, President and Chief Executive Officer at Vuzix.

The company patent portfolio has grown from 90 patents and patents pending to 179 over the last 36 months, driving the next generation smart glasses currently under development. The portfolio covers a range of IP including waveguides with holographic optics, laser and micro-LED display integration, industrial designs and optics engines that support low-cost single-layer waveguides to multilayer large field of view solutions. 

This week Vuzix signed a deal with Jade Bird Display on the co-development and cross-supply of solutions incorporating superbright microLED display engines and Vuzix waveguides. Under the agreement, Jade Bird Display will provide microLED displays and Vuzix will provide newly developed proprietary waveguides and display engine optics to work with these displays.

The complete systems and components will be sold by both Vuzix and JBD to their customers, and both parties have agreed to supply to each other on a priority allocation basis, subject to limitations to ensure Vuzix is able to satisfy its own branded product requirements. Both monochrome and RGB microLED display solutions are actively being developed for use by Vuzix in its NGSG products and for JBD customers. These are expected to be the world’s smallest microLED display engines when commercially released and will use Vuzix latest monolithic single layer waveguides, with both glass and plastic options expected to be available. 

At CES 2021, PC and phone maker Lenovo has also launched smart glasses aimed at office workers. The ThinkReality A3 glasses link to a PC or a Motorola mobile phone via a USB-C cable to enable users to position multiple, large virtual monitors in their field of view and use Windows software tools and applications.. The glasses are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 Platform and feature stereoscopic 1080p displays presenting the user with up to 5 virtual displays. An 8MP RGB camera provides 1080p video for remote expert use cases while the dual fish-eye cameras provide room-scale tracking.

“The A3 is a next generation augmented reality solution – light, powerful and versatile. The smart glasses are part of a comprehensive integrated digital solution from Lenovo that includes the advanced AR device, ThinkReality software, and Motorola mobile phones. Whether working in virtual spaces or supporting remote assistance, the ThinkReality A3 enhances workers’ abilities to do more wherever they are,” said Jon Pershke, Lenovo Vice President of Strategy and Emerging Business, Intelligent Device Group.

The Lenovo ThinkReality A3 smart glasses will be available in select markets worldwide starting mid-2021.

At the same time, Vodafone will offer the Snapdragon XR-based Nreal Light AR glasses in Europe. These enable a 5G connection via a USB-C tether to a phone. Nreal Light will launch first in Germany and Spain during Spring 2021, with other Vodafone markets to follow.

“Nreal Light is a breakthrough product and we are excited to announce that Vodafone is bringing Nreal’s cutting-edge glasses to Europe.  Nreal Light combined with Vodafone’s high speed, ultra-low latency Gigabit 5G network will give consumers and businesses an affordable, accessible way of experiencing the latest augmented and mixed reality experiences and brings the future a little closer for everyone,” said Phil Patel, Vodafone Group Director Products & Services.

Nreal CEO Chi Xu said: “European consumers will be able to experience the future through Nreal Light. They’ll enjoy a new way to see and interact with their favourite apps in a 3D mixed reality environment on Vodafone’s 5G network. We’re excited to be making Nreal Light available in Germany, Spain and other European countries in partnership with Vodafone as we continue our mission to make Mixed Reality accessible to consumers around the world.”

“We have long believed that XR and 5G are a perfect technology pair and we congratulate Vodafone and Nreal on this incredible milestone,” said Enrico Salvatori, senior vice president and president, Qualcomm EMEA. “Smartphones powered by Qualcomm Snapdragon 5G mobile platforms have both the processing power and ultra-fast, low latency 5G connectivity to deliver amazing, immersive XR experiences. Combining Qualcomm Technologies’ leading solutions with Vodafone’s 5G network and the Nreal Light glasses as accessories to smartphones will take the mobile XR experiences for both consumers and enterprises into a new, immersive dimension.”

Nreal Light overlays digital applications on the visual equivalent of a large transparent screen in the AR glasses, allowing users to see, move and interact with their surroundings easily. The glasses are compatible with most existing Android smartphone applications to browse the web or shop, watch video, TV and sport, gaming or catch up on social media.

Then there is Norm. An award winner at last year’s CES, these AR glasses have an 8MP video camera and dual core processor embedded. These are set to ship in January or February this year, marking the move of AR glasses into the consumer market.

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