If waveguide display maker DigiLens has its way, enterprise businesses and consumers will soon be able to purchase smartglasses for less than $500 — as long as they can supply their own computing and battery power.
On Monday, the company unveiled DigiLens Crystal, a reference design for smartglasses that takes the tethered computer approach of the Meta 2 with the heads-up display functionality of North Focals and Vuzix Blade to arrive at a design for relatively inexpensive, lightweight smartglasses that tether to smartphones or computers via a wired USB-C connection.
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Weighing less than half a pound, DigiLens Crystal smartglasses include an AR display with a field of view of about 30 degrees and an eight-megapixel camera. The company estimates battery life of about five hours on smartphone battery, or up to 15 hours on a portable battery pack.
"We have set the bar for featherlight indoor/outdoor smartglasses for workers and mobile gamers," said Chris Pickett, CEO of DigiLens, in a statement. "By tethering the smartglasses to powerful mobile devices, we have reduced the barrier to developing compelling AR applications to a simple app."
Next Reality has confirmed that the smartglasses we reported on last week (found in a video about waveguide manufacturing) were based on the DigiLens Crystal reference design.
As is the case with reference designs, DigiLens will license Crystal to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who want to use or modify the hardware design as the basis for their own branded products. The company expects smartglasses based on the design to arrive on the market by late 2019, though the company declined to disclose specific OEM partners.
For manufacturers who opt to use the Crystal design, DigiLens boasts a robust supply chain, including waveguide manufacturer Young Optics of Taiwan, electronics supplier Malata of China, and Korea-based pico display manufacturer Sekonix, which uses Texas Instruments DLP pico components.
"DigiLens Crystal offers a low-power, high contrast AR display experience in a small form factor enabled by DLP technology," said Frank Moizio, DLP's pico manager at Texas Instruments. "Designers can leverage the combination of DLP chipsets and DigiLens' holographic waveguides to advance augmented reality applications."
In order to offer a good balance of form factor, functionality, and price points that will attract consumers, AR headset and smartglasses makers must sometimes make compromises due to the current state of hardware. In terms of higher-end AR headsets, Meta offloads computing power to a sold-separately external computer in order to run complex 3D content at a lower cost (and wider field of view) than the HoloLens. Similarly, Magic Leap arrives at a slimmer form factor than the HoloLens via an external computer and battery pack.
On the lower end of the spectrum, North's Focals does away with a lot of the functionality of higher-end devices, with no camera for capturing content or environmental mapping. And the Vuzix Blade sacrifices a bit of style to include a camera. And while neither device offers complex 3D content, both are offered at the rather steep (considering what you're getting) $1,000 price point.
By offloading computing and battery power to a sold-separately computer, the DigiLens Crystal reference design reduces the cost of the device relative to device's like Focals and Blade, thus facilitating the lighter form factor, but requiring users to deal with a cable hanging off their heads.
And while there's no guarantee that, in the near future, the AR industry will come to consensus on the right mix between form factor, functionality, and price point to appeal to mainstream consumers, it appears, thanks in part to DigiLens, that we'll get some early indications of what works and what doesn't in 2019.
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