Nreal is adding hand tracking to its upcoming mixed reality headsets. It’s partnering with a company called Clay AIR, which makes a camera-based system for tracking gestures like pinching, pointing, grabbing, and swiping. That gives the Nreal Light glasses a feature that’s standard in headsets like Microsoft’s HoloLens, but in a smaller and (somewhat) less attention-grabbing package.
The Nreal Light will still support handheld controllers, including a 5G-enabled smartphone. But hand tracking is good for performing simple actions without pulling out a piece of hardware. It’s also increasingly easy to add as a software update, since many virtual and augmented reality headsets have built-in cameras already. (The Oculus Quest VR headset, for example, got the feature last month.) Developers can integrate Clay AIR’s tracking into their own Nreal apps, adding customizations like virtual hand overlays.
Nreal and Clay AIR are both Qualcomm partners, and the Nreal Light is part of a big Qualcomm push for mixed reality headsets. Granted, various companies have spent most of the past decade promising smart glasses were just around the corner. And many of these companies have gone bust, including Meta, ODG, and Daqri. Magic Leap, once considered the best chance for mass-market headsets, is pivoting toward the smaller but more established industry market.
But players like Nreal have two reasons to try again. Firstly, AR glasses are a dramatic way to demonstrate 5G network speeds: if you can stream lots of data remotely, you can offer impressive experiences with lightweight hardware. Secondly, Apple is heavily rumored to be building AR glasses, which might boost their chances of mainstream acceptance while adding a massive competitor to the field. Nreal has signed deals with European 5G-capable carriers for its launch, most recently Deutsche Telekom, which also announced a partnership with Nreal today.
These glasses haven’t shipped, so we can’t say whether they stand a chance of even limited adoption. Controls schemes have been a perennial issue for AR headsets, though — so this is a step in the right direction. Nreal glasses are supposed to ship later in 2020 and cost $499 for consumers.