Qualcomm just announced a new virtual and augmented reality platform, and it’s working with Niantic — the company behind games like Ingress and Pokémon Go — on a smart glasses reference design. The Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 platform is a follow-up to the earlier XR1 platform, and, like its predecessor, it’s specifically designed for AR and VR hardware. But it now supports 5G connectivity as well as voice-based interaction, eye tracking, and passthrough camera capabilities, among other features.
Qualcomm’s XR2 is a substantial upgrade to the XR1. It allows screen resolutions of up to 3K per eye at 90 frames per second as well as 8K resolution 360-degree video playing at 60 frames per second. It also supports up to seven concurrent cameras, which could be used for traditional head tracking, but also less common options like tracking of eyes and facial features. And it allows for options like real-time translation and object recognition.
Five unnamed manufacturers are working with Qualcomm on XR2-based hardware, and according to Qualcomm XR head Hugo Swart, products featuring the platform should start coming out in the second half of 2020. Qualcomm hasn’t released the names of these manufacturers, though, and there’s no completed reference design. CNET did preview an early XR2 hardware prototype, but it didn’t yet support facial tracking or the passthrough camera, just basic features like a high-resolution screen.
Niantic also offered limited details about its work on the project, but it confirmed the existence of a “multi-year joint collaboration on an integrated design spanning AR glasses reference hardware, software, and cloud-components.” The results will be shared with members of the Niantic Creator Program for location-based and AR app developers.
Qualcomm’s chips already power headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens; the recently released HoloLens 2 uses the Snapdragon 850 chip, rather than the VR / AR-specific XR1, as was initially rumored. In general, augmented reality has taken off slowly and remains primarily useful for specialized enterprise hardware rather than consumer products. Qualcomm’s XR2 announcement nodded toward mainstream applications, which apparently include your kid wearing smart glasses at the dinner table. That’s still not a super likely scenario, but Niantic’s involvement does suggest some real commitment toward this idea since it’s one of the few companies to make a real breakout AR (albeit phone-based AR) game.