Are AR Smart Glasses Making a Comeback? Lenovo and Vuzix Think So
Since the initial hype of Google Glass has died down in recent years, many AR companies have used the CES stage to resurge excitement in AR smart glasses. Here are the latest advancements from CES 2021.
While AR glasses are not yet a widely-embraced consumer technology, many of the world’s biggest tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and now Apple have worked on producing glasses.
Back in 2018, AAC contributor Chantelle Dubois pointed out how companies like Apple and Intel sought to revive the dream of AR glasses by integrating technologies like catadioptric lensing systems and even lasers into these devices. However, many of these prototypes have not taken off for a number of reasons—for instance, clunky aesthetics, high prices, and underwhelming utility.
It's not uncommon for a new crop of AR smart glasses to show up at events like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), and this year was no different.
Examples of the types of subsystems that may appear in AR glasses. Image used courtesy of Texas Instruments
At CES 2021, two AR-specializing companies Lenovo and Vuzix released new smart glasses technology, which they hope will push wearable AR devices from a pipe dream to a reality.
ThinkReality A3 Connects Users to Their Workspace
Lenovo describes its new smart glasses, the ThinkReality A3, as “the most versatile smart glasses ever designed for enterprise.” The new glasses work by connecting to a PC or compatible Motorola smartphone via USB-C.
Designing wired glasses is certainly a deviation from the direction that most of the industry is taking, where standalone battery-powered AR glasses are the main goal. The wired solution is beneficial because it eliminates the issue of battery life. The downside, however, is that it limits the portability of the glasses. Lenovo's glasses are aimed at enterprise applications, where a user is expected to be seated at a desk and where the glasses simply augment the user’s computer.
A breakdown of ThinkReality A3. Image used courtesy of Lenovo
The glasses can provide up to five virtual displays at once with features to move and lock the display locations. At the hardware level, the ThinkReality A3 glasses achieve this using the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR1 processor, an 8MP RGB camera for 1080p video, and dual fish-eye cameras for room-scale tracking. Aside from these details, most technical facts are unreleased.
"Next-Gen Smart Glasses" Merge Function With Aesthetics
Another AR smart glass announcement that has likewise received buzz from CES 2021 comes from Vuzix with what the company is calling its next-generation smart glasses.
At first glance, the new glasses impressed consumers in attendance on an aesthetic front: they look like normal glasses. Compared to clunkier solutions like the HoloLens, these glasses could possibly pass off as a normal pair of glasses. Vuzix ascribes these stylish features to some advanced optical techniques it employs.
Vuzix’s new smart glasses include a micro-LED display engine. Image used courtesy of Vuzix
From the company’s website, the glasses utilize “ultra-slim, binocular Waveguides powered by a pair of tiny, highly efficient micro-LED projectors, one for each eye, generating crisp video with contextual information.”
By using micro-LEDs with their unique waveguide technology, the Vuzix glasses include projectors on the sides instead of in front of the user. This allows for a more aesthetically-pleasing look. Micro-LEDs also provide the benefit of high-density pixel arrays at low power, a useful solution for AR.
Unlike Lenovo’s glasses, Vuzix’s solution connects via Bluetooth to a smartphone, giving it more flexibility and portability.
AR Glasses Move Toward Market Acceptance
Improvements in AR glasses, like SensoMotoric's eye-tracking features, can, at times, surge excitement in the consumer electronics community. But it's often at events like CES that these avant-garde designs show signs that the technology is inching toward widespread adoption.
While Lenovo’s new solution focuses on utility in enterprise applications, where users are expected to be tethered to their laptops, Vuzix’s glasses are designed to reimagine the clunky AR devices of years past into an everyday accessory.
Have you ever worked at the design level with AR smart glasses? What were the board-level challenges of working with this technology? Share your experiences in the comments below.