Niantic unveils Snapdragon AR2-powered headset for outdoor use

Back in early 2021 Pokemon GO Developer Niantic just gave a brief glimpse that they’re working on some kind of transparent headset. Now the company has revealed it’s working with Qualcomm on a benchmark AR headset based on the Snapdragon AR2 platform.

Niantic has quietly developed a sleek reference design for what the company calls an “outdoor AR headset.” Qualcomm was also part of the project, with Niantic calling the headset a “shared vision for an outdoor AR headset,” in an announcement this month.

There are very few actual details on the specs of Niantic’s reference headset, but as far as we know it’s built to the top Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon AR2, a purpose-built chip platform to enable compact, low-power AR headsets and goggles. It’s unclear if the headset uses a host device (like a smartphone) for additional computing.

Image courtesy of Niantic

Compact indeed… while we have very few details on the reference headset, the device almost certainly uses waveguide optics (given its compactness). We can also spot three cameras on the front that will be used for position tracking. And from a render of the Niantic AR headset, it looks like it could fold in on itself to become more compact for travel. It’s not clear from the render if it’s a completely soft strap or if there’s a hidden mechanical hinge somewhere under the fabric spacers of the headband.

Image courtesy of Niantic

In the video above, we actually see two different headsets. The first shot is of a white headset and controller that appear to be identical to the render.

Image courtesy of Niantic

The second is a black headset and black controller which doesn’t look as compact – it’s probably closer to the early version of the headset the company previously teased.

Since only the black helmet is shown for most of the video, it looks like the white helmet isn’t fully functional yet.

“The hardware reference design showcases the potential of outdoor-compatible AR headsets that can orient themselves using the Niantic map and render information and virtual worlds on top of the physical world,” says Maryam Sabour, head of AR headsets at Niantic. “The reference design will continue to evolve, and we’re excited about the new Snapdragon AR2 platform that delivers breakthrough technology that enables headset manufacturers to quickly and more efficiently create stylish commercial products based on our vision for consumers.”

The company specifies that it is a reference headphones— Niantic does not want to market it on its own, but wants to allow other companies to use it as a model to manufacture their own helmets. And because it’s Niantic, it makes sense that the company hopes others will build AR headsets. More precisely for the exterior.

Most commercial AR headsets to date have poor outdoor capabilities. Meanwhile, all of Niantic’s current business is based on outdoor games like Pokemon GOand the company hopes to become the location layer that everyone uses to sync city-wide AR experiences, through its Lightship Visual Positioning System.

On that front, Niantic’s headset reveal also came with the announcement that Lightship VPS will be integrated with Snapdragon Spaces, Qualcomm’s set of AR development tools, starting in 2023.

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