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  • March 15, 2023

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The news media has been buzzing about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technology on the heels of some impressive product unveilings. With AR/VR tech gaining early commercial momentum, technology leaders large and small are innovating and investing in AR/VR to speed the arrival of truly breakthrough XR and metaverse technologies.

So what does the state of the art look like today for AR and VR smart glasses and headsets? The recent news headlines have been revelatory. 

Major shifts are underway in the design and economics of these devices, making them smaller, lighter and more affordable. The ability to enable long usage in between charges remains the elusive holy grail for mobile wireless AR and XR glasses (SPARK can help!), but great progress is being made here and elsewhere in AR and VR. 

In this story from Gizmodo, HTC’s new Vive XR Elite wowed a product reviewer to praise the device’s sleek design. Per the author: “The form factor rules, and it’s probably what you should be most excited about. If it’s a symptom of other headsets to come, then VR’s most painful hurdle (the bulkiness) might be over.” 

Meanwhile Sony’s new PlayStation VR2 headset is being praised for its tech, of course, but also its economic efficiencies that make it cost competitive in its device class. From a recent review: “[The PSVR2] provides nearly everything you can get in high-end PCVR kits for a substantially better price (potentially thousands less depending on the PC rig).”

Apple is of course widely rumored to be entering the AR/VR glasses domain this year, with Meta rumored to follow with the debut of its first AR glasses (not to be confused with Meta’s Quest headsets for VR apps). Tech companies from all corners are working overtime to claim their territory in the nascent AR glasses market. Each of these vendors brings a unique vision to AR/VR, and all will play a vital role in its realization.

HOW WILL WE OPERATE OUR AR SMART GLASSES?

As more AR/VR products are unveiled in the months ahead, we’ll have a much better sense of what the future holds. In the meantime, speculation continues to mount regarding the types of controls – physical buttons, voice controls, motion-based gesture controls, etc – that next-generation AR glasses and headsets will be equipped with. 

What should we expect?

It’s perhaps easier to enumerate what we shouldn’t expect. When we envision the future of sleek, lightweight AR glasses perched on our noses as we navigate our daily lives in the physical world, we won’t be walking around with joysticks or “wands” in our hands (and in and out of our pockets) to maneuver and control the AR elements that are literally right in front of our eyes. This is just too cumbersome for AR apps. We need our hands free for other things!

Likewise, we don’t anticipate that the future of smart glasses involves users pawing at their faces every few moments to press a bunch of tiny buttons onboard their smart glasses frames. It’s not practical – it’s encumbering.

Voice activated controls will likely be a compelling option for some AR/VR applications in the future – but with some significant, persistent limitations. Voice controls can struggle in noisy environments, and user privacy is a non-starter when you’re speaking aloud to/through your AR glasses. 

Surely in the future we won’t be fiddling with our smartphones to control our AR glasses and wearables – it defeats the purpose! For the time being, however, smartphones probably will play a central role in the AR user experience, with the phone doing the heavy lifting in terms of data processing and comms. This is probably an interim step toward smartphone functionality being fully (or mostly) absorbed within next generation AR glasses and headsets.

There is surely more innovation to come here, and media reports continue to mine for clues. Meta has demonstrated a “wristband controller” prototype device that reads electrical signals from users’ muscles and movements to navigate mixed reality experiences. Meanwhile over in Cupertino, media intrigue continues to ride high over recent Apple patent filings for “finger-mounted devices” – so called ‘Apple Rings’.

PREDICTIONS FOR AR SMART CONTROLS

So what can we expect for the future of AR device and smart glasses controls? Whether you subscribe to the metaverse concept or not, it’s understood that in augmented reality and virtuality reality – just like in actual reality – our hands and fingers are integral to our perception and awareness. Motion and gesture controls will be essential for interacting in mixed reality (MR), whether they’re mounted on our wrists, hands, fingers or elsewhere.

These devices will need to be lightweight, physically small and unobtrusive – with the tiniest of batteries, so extreme power efficiency is critical. And these devices must exchange huge volumes of sensor data wirelessly over the air, with no perceptible latency lag when synchronizing audio and video feeds, and ultra-precise spatial positioning/tracking of users’ hands, digits, etc. 

If you can name a better connectivity solution than UWB, we’d like to hear about it. When it comes to AR glasses, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and proprietary 2.4 GHz simply can’t compete across all of the requisite performance metrics: power efficiency, latency and data rate. 

High throughput, ultra-low latency, interference resistant, extreme low power SPARK UWB technology is the ideal solution for the coming tidal wave of AR use cases requiring real-time responsiveness, positioning and controls at our fingertips. Stay tuned here at SPARK’s blog to read more about what UWB has in store for the future trajectory of AR, VR and XR!