Qualcomm’s Hugo Swart
During last week’s Computex event in Taipei, I met with Hugo Swart, Qualcomm’s Senior Director of IoT Consumer Electronics, a man who’s really keen on bringing us to a point where AR and VR become a part of every day life. During the meeting, he introduced me to the concept of “XR”, or eXtended Reality, one that would see the same headset deliver both AR and VR experiences, based on whichever is more useful at that particular time.
AR and VR share similar goals, such as creating new realities or altering the one we have, but both have their own perks that would make one solution more favorable for a given task. AR, for example, modifies the current environment, and it carries some unbelievable potential. When Microsoft first unveiled its HoloLens AR solution, it promoted the idea of allowing workers to get instant feedback so that they can accomplish their work quicker. Well – not just quicker, but perhaps even better.
Picture, for example, an electrician receiving instant feedback on which wires control which component. Even better, these Internet-enabled glasses could allow a trainer to see what the electrician sees, at which point wires or components could be circled in real-time. Because this is AR, those circles would remain in tact regardless of where the person moves in the room.
VR, on the other hand, is great for pulling people outside of reality entirely in order to enter a brand-new one. Six Flags has introduced VR at some theme parks to allow people to enjoy traditional rides in entirely different landscapes. Find a roller coaster a little boring when you can see a parking lot below? That could be spiced up with a field of lava at the base of the coaster. Tunnels, dragons, and whatever else could be added to the scene to give riders a very unique experience.
NVIDIA sees VR being useful in product design
At NVIDIA’s GPU Technology Conference a couple of weeks ago, we learned of Holodeck, software that would allow product designers to collaborate in a virtual environment, without the distractions of the real environment around them.
So, with it being established that both AR and VR are worth pursuing, Qualcomm expects that in time, a single headset will cater to both realities. A combination of AR, VR, and “MR” (Mixed Reality) leads to the coining of XR, and eventually, the production of a pair of glasses similar to the ones seen below:
These proposed glasses would have multiple wireless technologies built-in, both rear and front-facing cameras, eye-tracking, light sensors, directional speakers, bone conductors, and so on and so forth. In effect, these glasses would pack in an incredible amount of technology into their small frame. We’re still very far away from glasses this elegant from becoming a reality (expect ~10+ years), but barring some unknown technological hurdles, we’ll see rougher iterations much sooner.
With XR, we’re at the earliest of stages of development, and things will improve over time, just as we’ve seen with smartphones. Remember when cell phones used to be the size of a brick? That’s in effect where XR is now – but that will of course change, and change soon.
The biggest challenges facing the reality of XR relate to the displays, illumination, motion tracking, power, thermals, and connectivity. I’d add “processing power” to that list, as AR, despite not overwhelming your field-of-vision with an alternate reality, is still hugely demanding. A processor like Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 835 is powerful for today’s uses, but more powerful forthcoming chips are going to be welcomed. In fact, AR and VR is probably the best reason for more powerful mobile chips right now – when is the last time you found the SoC in your smartphone to be lacking? We’re seeing the same on the desktop: today’s GPUs are fantastic for desktop gaming, but try using the same hardware for 4Kx2 @ 90 FPS/Hz.
From a user perspective, the biggest challenge for us is the wait we must endure before refined XR/AR/VR products hit the market. Based on what we know to be coming, though, the wait should be worth it.