The slow but steady evolution of AR/VR technology has made for some attention-grabbing headlines over the years. From ‘smart glasses’ to full AR/VR headsets, much progress has been made in advancing this technology forward to mainstream commercialization – with much fanfare.
Witness the recently announced collaboration between Facebook and EssilorLuxottica, and the launch of their Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses. It’s yet another milestone in the long and painstaking maturation of AR/VR technology, and a reminder of how far we’ve come as an industry since AR/VR’s infancy.
It’s also a reminder of how far we have yet to go.
Facebook itself has taken pains to set consumer expectations appropriately, carefully delineating what Ray-Ban Stories can and can’t do effectively today. They’re primarily designed for apps that can leverage the device’s integrated camera, microphone and earphone speakers. But they do not support AR or VR functionality by any stretch of the imagination – there’s no heads-up display capability, for example – and they won’t be confused with Facebook’s Oculus AR/VR headsets anytime soon.
And that’s a good thing. Indeed, the highest compliment paid to Ray-Ban Stories in many media product reviews is that the Ray-Ban Stories…actually look like regular glasses. That may seem like a trivial achievement at first, but this is in fact a major step forward in the smart/AR/VR eyewear development curve. It’s a major feat just to cram all this technology into a stylish, standard-sized eyeglasses frame!
Compounding this challenge, each new device feature introduces a corresponding tax on device battery life – a consideration that must be weighed carefully when specifying/designing the feature set and power supply for any compact, portable device. The battery within Ray-Ban Stories is said to provide a day’s worth of battery life. But as with all portable devices, the mileage may vary depending on the type of apps you’re using. If you’re using your Ray-Ban Stories for continuous audio streaming, for example, the expected battery life is closer to three hours.
A NEW CHAPTER
Ray-Ban Stories, like Snap Inc’s Spectacles, are the latest and greatest market entries in a product category largely pioneered by Google with its Google Glass smart glasses, introduced almost a decade ago. It was a short-lived product initiative/experiment to say the least, but the industry learned many important lessons from it. And that was probably the goal.
It’s universally acknowledged that the achievement of true AR/VR technology isn’t exactly right around the corner. It will remain a promise that’s largely unfulfilled until all the supporting technologies come together to enable it.
Among other things, achieving AR/VR technology will require a huge leap forward in CPU/GPU processing efficiency in order to effectively harness and administer huge volumes of continuous, HD-resolution video and gaming content in real time. Sophisticated sensor fusion techniques must also be further developed in order to orchestrate the data flows to and from our eyes, ears and fingertips. This sensor/processor profile, in turn, requires a careful approach to power and thermal dissipation, with downstream implications for system size, etc.
AR/VR hardware will also require ultra-high-bandwidth, low latency wireless communication that’s bidirectional between user and device(s) – a capability that’s lightyears beyond what’s possible with Bluetooth wireless connectivity today. AR/VR glasses and headsets will also need to be extremely energy efficient if they’re to be used for extended periods between battery charges. Notably, if their form factor is to remain appealing for continuous usage, as opposed to current bulky AR/VR devices on the market, very stringent battery size limitations will exacerbate the need for an energy efficient system, spanning display, communication, processing functions and more.
It’s these latter performance metrics where UWB – and SPARK in particular – are ideally positioned to excel within the next generation of smart/AR/VR eyewear and peripherals. The 10X gains in data throughput that UWB provides relative to Bluetooth will no doubt prove to be a major asset for future AR/VR hardware development initiatives. The 60X reduction in latency and 40X improvement in energy efficiency that SPARK UWB transceivers provide to this end are what make them so exceptionally attractive to the AR/VR market going forward.
BABY STEPS TOWARD A GIANT LEAP
Rest assured, in the incremental evolution to true AR/VR technology, there will be many more product introductions like Google Glass, Snap Inc’s Spectacles and Ray-Ban Stories in the years ahead. But these products will only hint at the full potential of what can be achieved in the AR/VR technology domain of the future. And as a result, products like these will likely come and go fairly quickly – and fairly often – until AR/VR technology is finally, fully realized.
But by no means should these products be considered failures. The race to achieving AR/VR technology is a marathon, not a sprint. Industry titans like Google and Facebook recognize that AR/VR is the holy grail for media and gaming entertainment for its anticipated ability to fully immerse us in endlessly customizable digital content.
The spoils that await the market victors are beyond tantalizing, and they won’t rest until they get there. UWB will no doubt play a key enabling role along the way, and SPARK will do our part to help bring augmented reality and virtual reality technology into actual reality.