The AR headset reference design shows how Niantic and Qualcomm view outdoor augmented reality. Additionally, Niantic’s “VPS” is coming to Snapdragon Spaces.
Coinciding with the unveiling of its new Snapdragon AR2 augmented reality chip, Qualcomm also unveiled an AR headset in development through a collaboration with Niantic (Pokémon Go). During the presentation, the partners demonstrated a reference model of the augmented reality headset suitable for outdoor use.
The The “outdoor AR headset” will serve as the basis for future AR headsets from other manufacturers. OEM partners include Lenovo, LG, Nreal, OPPO, Pico, Sharp, Tencent, Vuzix and Xiaomi. The headband is elastic, folds over and allows the battery to be moved to the back of the head for proper weight balance.
AR headset from Qualcomm and Niantic
Software also benefits from collaboration. Starting in 2023, Niantic’s “Lightship VPS” (Visual Positioning System) will be compatible with the Snapdragon Spaces development platform. Applications created with Qualcomm’s AR development platform can then be easily extended with VPS functionality.
The VPS system, deployed for AR studios at the end of May, precisely and constantly place the players on a collaboratively shared 3D map. On this map, they see the same real-world infographics, such as interactive artwork, monsters, or street signs, with centimeter precision.
With this cooperation, Niantic and Qualcomm want to accelerate the development of AR headsets that can be used outdoors. The model on display has transparent screens like the Microsoft Hololens 2 or the Nreal Light.
So far, this design has not proven suitable for everyday use, as the technology suffers from space issues and narrow fields of view. More advanced is AR video passthrough with a VR headset.
With this technology, similar to the function of headsets like Metas Quest Pro (info) or the Lynx R1, the infographic enhances a video image of the physical world broadcast into the headset. However, if the lighting conditions are too bright or too dark, upside-down tracking can fail – and you’re blind if the headphones turn off. Therefore (and for fashion reasons), AR video headsets are not suitable for outdoor use so far.
Centimeter-accurate real-world AR games
A trailer shows Niantics and Qualcomm’s AR headset in action. In it, some test subjects walk together in a city center. Participants follow virtual path markings on real trails, open information panels at landmarks, and see game characters running on real asphalt or walls.
In an action game, they control meter-tall combat robots that sprint across grasslands or fire missiles at each other across rooftops. In the video, players use a motion controller with a touchpad for the thumb. The Snapdragon AR chip also supports hand tracking not shown in the video.
An important foundation for the real-world AR experience is the Niantic VPS mapping of real world locations. Through the tool, the community of developers and gamers collaborate on Niantic’s digital globe. In addition to spatial scans, photographs contribute to 3D reconstruction. The project started in 2020 with the ability to scan the environment in Pokémon GO. There are now 30,000 locations with VPS support, mostly in major cities.
iOS and Android devices still play an important role in the use of AR content, despite the future potential of AR glasses.
“We believe that true augmented reality will be best experienced on augmented reality headsets designed for the outdoors. For our part, we plan to make Lightship VPS available to power location-based AR experiences on as many hardware devices as possible,” says Maryam Sabour, head of Niantic’s AR business.
The AR headset is an early reference design. Its construction is still subject to change, Sabour said.
There are already plenty of software ideas for headsets. Niantic recently showed off a trailer with AR apps that can also be played on smartphones. These include sprouting flower meadows in Tower Superbloom AR and the monster-fighting MMO ARealm.
In September, Niantic announced Lightship VPS for Web, which makes content related to real-world locations available in the mobile browser.