AWE 2019: Go XR, Be Awesome


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One of the interesting talks was given by Verizon 5G labs. When most people think about 5G or Verizon, they think about cellphones, but 5G is going to enable so much more than getting a file downloaded faster or being able to view a video stutter free on a smartphone. The focus of this presentation was regarding the future of sports media using 5G. Right now, when we watch sports—even when using a portable device while at the event itself—we see a standard TV-like 2D presentation. We see the sports event as the TV camera sees it and as the transmitting network thinks we want to see it.

Imagine being able to watch the event as if from the stands as usual but being able to change your viewpoint from the stands to the players on the field or near the goal and being able to view it in 3D. You will have the opportunity to see a life-like experience from multiple viewpoints. As stated in an article published by Verizon, “Imagine watching the entire game displayed as a live hologram on your coffee table. These are the types of things 5G will eventually enable.” If you are interested in learning more about this topic, take a look at Verizon’s write-up [1]. This vision of future ways to view sports supported by XR and 5G was fully supported by Intel.

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Another talk I found interesting covered new VR glasses by nreal. This new device was part of a trend that I observed at the show. In past articles regarding VR/AR, when I had a chance to get a demo and try VR/AR headsets at this year’s and last year’s show, you had to use a VR headset that was somewhat large, uncomfortable, and required significant power to run. Thus, there were lots of new headsets, some soon to be available or being shown as prototypes.

Even with the impressive advances being shown, headsets still have a limited field of view, and AR/VR headsets still require compromises between going wireless and quality of the experience. Still, the new wired headsets are much more comfortable and can use a wire to connect to a portable device. Also, there isn’t a unified app ecosystem yet. Picking a headset limits you to the content available for it. Those leading the pack seem to be Microsoft, Android, and Qualcomm.

One promising development is the constantly improving approach to MR. Much more capable cameras are now being included in the new lightweight, comfortable headsets being shown at this year’s show. Eye tracking is also becoming more common and far more accurate with greatly improved capability. This will greatly improve the experience and allow the user to access menus without having to use a hand controller. Also, many include a microphone in a slightly heavier than normal pair of “sunglasses.” Industrial AR/VR Viewpointsystems demoed a slim, 5 oz. MR headset with integrated eye tracking at the show. But at $4,600, in the near term, it will probably only be used for high-ROI industrial applications.

The point, however, is that the hardware has improved significantly in capability, ease, and comfort of use. And when considering all of the additional capabilities, the value vs. cost ratio has improved. In addition, the rate of improvement has also increased. As I write this, I am thinking that it is only about six months to CES 2020.

Now, let’s talk about a few specific headsets being shown, some of which were announced at CES and shown and demonstrated at AWE. Other lightweight, highly capable devices were shown, and a few that I found impressive had similar VR/AR capabilities, including normal glasses with comfort, sound, and portable or wearable device compatibility.

nreal_new_3d_viewers.jpgThe new glasses from nreal, as well as many others at the show, are a whole new generation. They look almost like normal sunglasses. They fit over your regular glasses if you wear them, and they are light, comfortable, and something you would have no problem wearing for hours on end or folding them and putting them in your pocket. This new generation is powered by your portable device (phone, tablet, computer, etc.) as long as it includes USB-C—basically any Android or Windows device. It also includes 3D vision at a good resolution of up to 1080p and either a full virtual or an augmented image (putting a virtual image over the real world) and a 52-degree field of view.

Further, the headset includes spatial sound and seems to do a great job of letting you watch movies, play games, and do nearly all present and predicted upcoming AR/VR activities. They are powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon processor, and it was announced that they will be able to work with any similarly powered device. They can connect by Bluetooth or Wi-Fi and transmit haptic touch feelings to a small separate controller, which is also touch sensitive. They also incorporate their own front-facing camera. This next-generation device will sell for under $500 and will be available this year.

Another next-gen, lightweight XR headset I found impressive, incorporating all of the latest updates, was from Third Eye who is clearly focused on industrial and medical uses of XR. In addition, they announced that developers working with their new X2 MR smart glasses now have the ability to communicate with the ThirdEye development team via Skype (kind of like an open-source roundtable), which is definitely accelerating the overall progress.

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This headset weighs only 6 oz. and will be available soon. It’s not cheap, but it’s not aimed at the home entertainment market. It has a truly amazing and fully capable design. I am considering getting one of the next-gen headsets to get more personal knowledge and experience for future coverage, and this one is now high on my list.

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Another example of impressive progress was new lenses from LetinAR who announced a new optical solution for XR glasses. LetinAR is a startup that develops optical solutions for AR Glasses called the PinMR™ lens. They have applied the so-called “pinhole effect” to tiny mirrors and embedded them with eyeglasses lenses. Respective PinMR™ reflects the light from a microdisplay and guides the light into human pupils. Users may view the virtual image from the microdisplay as well as the image from the real world at ease. Human eyes cannot detect the mirrors, which are smaller than pupils. Only the virtual image formed by the light reflected by those mirrors is visible. This allows manufacturers to build smartglasses that resemble conventional glasses.

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