Editor's note: SparkAmplify's monthly AR/VR trending topic analysis serves as a reliable indicator of events currently being discussed in the news. Our data has revealed that about three-fifths of the topics that were identified for the first half of 2021 were about AR glasses. As we believe AR wearable will become one of the biggest trends in AR/VR in the coming years, this piece will serve as your guide to the current landscape of the latest AR wearable technologies.
AR smartglasses have long been a topic of discussion, but successful prototypes have been few and far between. Since Google Glass was released almost a decade ago, tech companies have had ample time to head back to the drawing board and continue the research and development process.
Now, companies like Apple, Samsung, and Facebook are racing to bring the ‘personal computer of tomorrow’ to the market. In 2021 alone, we’ve seen several updates from players like Apple on their latest AR glasses developments. Back in May, social media company Snap Inc even beat Facebook and Apple to become the first big tech company to unveil AR glasses - Spectacles.
So what is it about this futuristic device that the high priests of Silicon Valley tech are betting big on AR? Could augmented reality glasses be the ‘next big tech gadget’ after the smartphone?
In this piece, our team at SparkAmplify will provide a detailed look at the present and future of AR devices based on our analysis of the latest AR trends globally. Here is a quick overview:
As popularized by VR headset pioneer Oculus VR, virtual reality has been most widely known for its use in the video game industry. However, over the years, industry efforts are shifting towards augmented reality as the technology has expanded to be utilized in industries ranging from business and construction to healthcare and travel. Now, augmented reality is more commonly seen since innovators are finding new ways to implement AR to increase efficiency and productivity in daily tasks.
On a small scale, the selfie filters that add freckles or glasses as seen on Instagram and Snapchat are a form of augmented reality. AR has also been utilized by furniture brands like IKEA to see how furniture would fit into spaces. Vxchange predicts that we’ll see augmented reality making breakthroughs in smartglasses, sporting events, classrooms, healthcare, as well as growth in mobile AR through 5G. The most exciting of these trends is the potential for AR to be implemented into smart devices like glasses and other wearable devices.
Vincent An, the lead software designer of AR wearable communication startup Mira, speculates that widespread adoption of consumer augmented reality devices will be triggered by hardware emerging from one of the tech giants since they have the resources and marketing capabilities that are necessary, while AR software startups will quickly populate the software market created by the release of new hardware.
With tech giants and AR/VR companies racing to develop their own AR smartglasses, there is a constant buzz of news and updates. Here’s a quick breakdown of what we currently know about the latest developments and plans for augmented reality smart glasses and devices.
Leading tech giant Apple is in the works of making a pair of highly anticipated AR glasses called Apple Glass. We can expect that Apple Glass, glasses with augmented reality capabilities built into them, will be marketed for consumer use like its smartphones and smartwatches (2C).
Learning from privacy concerns brought up from Google Glass, Apple has a plan to address the issue of indicating whether smartglasses wearers are recording video or not. According to Patently Apple, the figure on the patent application shows a removable camera modular accessory that must be attached to the glasses in order to record images and video. To further bolster transparency, the camera accessory also has light indicators when it is recording.
Another recent patent describes the glasses’ adjustable opacity system to maintain image visibility and quality in different ambient lighting conditions, as well as a 3D finger modeling that allows for a touch-sensitive AR display.
It’s hard to say when we can expect to see Apple’s augmented reality hardware products, both the Apple Glass and a rumoured Apple-branded VR headset, out on the market. Some people speculate the debut in Q2 of 2022 while others think 2023; regardless, Apple Glass will definitely be something to watch for.
Based on two concept videos that were released in February of this year, Samsung, another tech giant, also plans to release two extended reality headwear devices: Samsung Glasses Lite and Samsung AR Glasses. The Glasses Lite model is designed for light media consumption like watching videos, playing video games, answering emails on a projected virtual display. Furthermore, the lite smart glasses are depicted to be used in conjunction with Samsung smartwatches to control certain functions.
On the other hand, the all-inclusive AR glasses are capable of AR/VR meetings, and holo calls, among other functions. Most exciting about this model is the glasses’ responsiveness to arm and hand movements without the need for an external device to detect gestures.
Based on the concept videos, Samsung seems to be teasing these two augmented reality glasses for consumer use. Purely speculating, the Glasses Lite may be more catered toward casual recreational and everyday uses while the AR Glasses may be more useful for those in business or aiming to increase productivity in an innovative way. Either way, both of Samsung’s smart glasses seem to be exciting devices for the future of AR/VR.
Although Snapchat has already released three versions of Spectacles, the company has announced the development of a new pair of fully AR glasses. Unlike previous models, this new model can project 3D virtual projections onto real-life environments. Not to mention, they’re wireless and can detect hand movements and capture video and photos.
At the moment, the new Spectacles is marketed toward creators and developers. In an interview with CNET, Clay Weishaar, a creator who was given a preliminary version of the glasses, says that “even though it’s geared towards creators, it feels very much like a consumer-based experience… the hands-free side of things is just a game-changer for me”. Perhaps after successful feedback, Snapchat may release Spectacles for the consumer market.
Semiconductor company Qualcomm revealed blueprints for a pair of new AR smart glasses called “Qualcomm XR1 Smart Viewer Reference Design”. The design shows a model that is tethered to a PC or smartphone in order to balance the onboard processing capabilities between the external device and the glasses themselves. The AR glasses will run on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon processing platform which consumes 30% less power than other smart glasses. Users of the XR1 Smart Viewer will be able to interact with 3D virtual images and objects projected by the glasses and use hand motions to control them.
In more exciting news, Qualcomm will be partnering with Microsoft between this tethered model as well as a planned wireless AR glasses model to be released in 2022, Qualcomm has made significant strides establishing itself as a force to be reckoned with.
In January of this year, Lenovo launched its version of AR smart glasses. The ThinkReality A3 is designed specifically with enterprise in mind, meaning that industrial and manufacturing workers will have a new gadget to help boost efficiency in daily tasks. More functions include projecting virtual displays, 3D visualizations, and remote collaboration.
Like Qualcomm’s design, Lenovo’s AR glasses will tether to PCs or Motorola phones via a USB-C cable and will be supported by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR1 processor. According to Road to VR, the AR glasses also use birdbath style optics. The ThinkReality A3 glasses also have 1080p resolution, and two fish-eye cameras for motion tracking and video recording. Lenovo has kept in mind that many users may already wear some form of corrective eyewear, so the glasses have snap-in prescription lenses.
Although Lenovo announced that the AR glasses will be available in selected markets starting in mid-2021, a price tag hasn’t been established yet. We’ll definitely keep our eyes out for these new sunglasses-looking AR wearable glasses this year.
With the above tech giants and more already developing AR glasses, it’s safe to say that other AR devices are on the way. Our trend analyses also indicate that AR wristbands are another hot topic. So far, there aren’t as many companies developing AR smart watches but here are the two major contenders that look promising.
Leading the pack of AR wrist wearables is Facebook with its smartwatch that will function as a tandem controller for other Facebook AR devices, like its own AR smartglasses.
The main technology that Facebook Reality Labs hopes to incorporate into this wrist wearable is EMG (electromyography), meaning that the smartwatch will monitor and carry out actions from neural impulses traveling down the arm. This is an incredible breakthrough from CRTL-Labs that can really change the game. The system will need some time to familiarize itself with the user’s nerves, but once it learns, the possibilities are endless. The hand tracking technology will even work without you moving your fingers.
With such advanced technology, privacy will be a concern for many. According to CNET, Facebook hasn’t said much about how they may use the data gathered from its smart glasses, however the social media and tech company is trying to be transparent with its research.
Although reports say that the watch will be released in mid-2022, a senior Facebook executive commented that it may not even be released to the public for consumer use since “research doesn’t always lead to product development”. Regardless of, the use of EMG technology to bolster AR is an incredible development that we may see more of in the future.
Coolso, a tech startup based in Boston and Taiwan, is on a similar wavelength with Facebook in regards to AR wristbands. The Core Technology implemented in the startup’s wristbands is slightly similar to Facebook’s EMG-controlled wristband, however Coolso’s wristband detects muscle vibration signals instead.
The size of a Fitbit, Coolso wristbands are compact yet powerful and the technology is sweat-resistant and remains stable in any weather condition, making them suitable for those working in industrial and manufacturing jobs. Although the Core Technology and wristbands are currently being used by manufacturing companies in a B2B model, Coolso has plans in the future for the Core Technology to be licensed for consumer use on any wrist wearable like a smartwatch or smart wristband. The advanced AI software can be licensed for AR/VR systems of game consoles, smartglasses, and other devices. Not limited by its own hardware, Coolso’s software service can be incorporated into any smartwatch and the hardware itself can be modified to pair with AR smartglasses as a hands-free controller.
In an interview with SparkAmpLab, CEO Jack Wu expressed that he sees startups like Coolso supplying accessories to the main body of AR/VR devices. In the future AR ecosystem, accessories and software such as Coolso wristbands and the Core Technology will help improve the AR/VR experience and provide a better user experience.
Apple’s new Assistive Touch software on Apple Watch, which allows users to control the device without even needing to touch it, made waves in the news this past May as a huge step in supporting those with limited mobility. Through the Assistive Touch sensors, “Apple Watch can detect subtle differences in muscle movement and tendon activity, which lets users navigate a cursor… through a series of hand gestures, like a pinch or a clench”.
Analyst Neil Cybart believes that this new technology may be used alongside the future Apple Glasses to control them, similar to Facebook’s plans. According to 9to5 Mac, Assistive Touch on Apple Watch would be a more streamlined way to control the AR glasses, as well as boosting the Apple ecosystem at the same time.
Apple still maintains its hold and dominance on the tech devices sphere and it will be exciting to see how the tech giant will combine its software and hardware for AR innovation. As Cybart argues, Apple has a four to five year technological lead on wearable devices and Assistive Touch just goes to support that claim.
Besides the devices mentioned above that Facebook is developing (AR glasses and wristband wearable), the social media-tech company is adding on an AR baseball hat. This new design for an AR wearable is meant to be an alternative under AR headsets and glasses, according to a patent submitted by Facebook in 2019 that was only just published this year.
There are multiple advantages to this unconventional design of an AR wearable. The hat design means that the actual electronic hardware won’t be as close to the user’s face in case the device potentially overheats. Furthermore, more space will be available to attach sensors, cameras, and more AR components. The AR display will be on the brim of the hat and can be folded up or down depending on need, meaning that the AR hat can be turned into a normal baseball hat (with some extra capabilities).
Similar to Facebook’s smartwatch, it is unknown whether this product will be released for consumer use and when we could potentially see it on the market, if at all. However, this AR baseball hat shows that potential AR wearables aren’t just limited to glasses.
In 2017, Singapore-based startup Solustar developed Solusight, a platform for AR glasses to increase workplace efficiency, making the company one of the pioneers to move into the augmented reality space in Asia. Mainly used for auditing and coaching in field services, the software allows users to annotate and draw on images and hosting virtual team meetings, an important factor during the COVID-19 pandemic, via the integrated video and camera functions. Furthermore, the captured images and video are categorized in a gallery to make locating archived records easier.
As a B2B solution, Solusight has been implemented in a variety of industries such as manufacturing, engineering, telemedicine, and hospitality to superimpose images and instructions for smoother workflow. The augmented reality platform can be integrated into a variety of headwear devices such as the Epson or Realwear AR glasses. By using voice command to control the device, Solusight is hands-free, which is imperative for those using it as a solution in hazardous workplaces. Solustar takes confidentiality and security very seriously, so Solusight users are able to host the software on their own server.
In an interview with SparkAmpLab, Solustar CEO Louis Loo comments that he believes AR will become more important especially in a new normal work lifestyle because of the advent of 5G. Hopefully this will mean that we’ll continue to see new and useful AR technology like Solusight developing in the near future.
The brainchild of a couple of University of Southern California students, Mira is an AR wearable communication platform designed to make augmented reality accessible to the average company by centering the smartphone as the processor for the AR experience. Pivoting from the original idea to market Mira as a consumer device, the startup turned to the industrial and manufacturing space where Mira found its niche.
Working with clients from chemical to transport manufacturing, Mira is a hands-free device that is cost-effective and scalable for industrial workplaces and frontline workers as they complete routine inspections and safety audits. Prism Pro, the hardware itself, is a headset powered by the wearer’s smartphone that can strap into any standard hardhat. Furthermore, to not distract users, the AR display on the Prism can be flipped up and down depending on need. Mira comprises of two softwares: Connect and Flow. Connect provides video-calling services where team members can call in to collaborate on projects or troubleshoot issues while Flow is a product in which companies can author their own workflows to maximize efficiency.
Mojo Vision, a Silicon Valley-based startup, is taking AR eyewear to a whole new level with the R&D of XR contact lens. The smart contact glasses display digital information like notes or directions without the bulk of glasses through the microelectronics and microdisplay in the device. With Mojo Vision’s Invisible Computing concept, the lenses can display information when needed in order to not disrupt or distract the user from engaging activities. Mojo Lens even works with the eyes fully closed, thus turning it into more of a VR display.
According to Virtual Reality Pop, Mojo Vision Lens will first be used to help “sight-impaired people to navigate low light situations...by detectecting walls, edges, and furniture”. While not currently available for commercial use, Mojo Lens represents a breakthrough in the possibilities for AR wearables.
We’ve made some significant progress in the ten years since the first smart wearable device was released: Google Glass (2011). Google was the pioneer in this industry, and now other tech giants are building upon Google Glass’s precedent to develop the next pair of AR smart glasses and other wearables.
As we’ve seen from SparkAmplify’s monthly trending topics, the race to develop AR glasses is a close one. With tech giants like Apple and Samsung releasing concept designs and product blueprints, we are looking forward to seeing the results of their research and development, perhaps even on the consumer market. Some companies like Facebook and Coolso are also developing AR wristbands accessories, something we may see more of in the future as XR becomes more widespread and available. While smartglasses and wrist wearables are hot topics in AR, various startups such as Solustar and Mojo Vision have been hard at work creating innovative wearables to further expand XR’s usage in daily life.