While a lot of talk about the metaverse has focused on virtual reality experiences that use a VR headset to put people in digital environments, other approaches use augmented reality (AR) or mixed reality (XR) to blend digital and physical elements. Today at the Augmented World Expo, Qualcomm is revealing its Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform, a kit that will help devs expand existing apps and create new ones to take advantage of AR devices you wear on your head.
Today’s announcement doesn’t include mention of new hardware, however, Qualcomm is lining up some important partners for the mixed reality future that it’s been planning for the last decade. They include Niantic and its recently revealed Lightship platform for “real-world metaverse apps,” as well as hardware OEMs including Lenovo, Motorola, Oppo, and Xiaomi. Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 glasses, based on Qualcomm’s XR1 Smart Viewer reference design, will be the first to “commercialize” Snapdragon Spaces next year. T-Mobile is the “lead 5G launch partner” and will work with startups and developers via its existing T-Mobile Accelerator program.
Snapdragon Spaces is intended to underpin an “open” and “cross device” ecosystem, with APIs that are hardware agnostic so the software developers create can run on many different types of platforms, including AR glasses or full AR headsets that look more like Microsoft’s HoloLens. According to Qualcomm, this is “the first headworn AR platform optimized for AR Glasses tethered to smartphones with an OpenXR conformant runtime.” It also has support for the familiar developer tools Unreal Engine 4 and Unity.
It’s available now to “select” developers like Holo One and NZXT. Access for everyone is coming early next year, complete with tools for hand tracking, image recognition and tracking, positional tracking, and the like. Qualcomm also announced it has acquired assets from HINS SAS and its subsidiary, Clay AIR, for hand tracking and gesture recognition, while a partnership with Wikitude will open up access for that AR development platform’s 150,000 registered developers.
As 5G becomes widely available on more mobile devices (many of which are powered by Qualcomm hardware), the idea is that AR as a second screen feature for apps will also be ubiquitous. That includes AR tracks overlaying your living room for an Anki Drive-like experience or a floating smartwatch UI that only you can see. There are already augmented reality experiences available for mobile devices that can help you shop for furniture and visualize it inside your living space, but this platform is supposed to make those easier to build from scratch, port them from one platform to another, and get them ready for use in upcoming headsets.