Meta’s first daily AR headset is expected to hit the market in 2027. However, the ambitious project must first accept financial and technical cuts.
A daily AR headphones are the holy grail of tech companies, whether for the metaverse or simply as a replacement for the smartphone. Although there have been several experiments, few headsets have reached consumers.
Hololens 2, like Magic Leap 2, is an enterprise AR headset. In addition to one uncertain future, these glasses suffer from problems such as a narrow field of vision and a very high price. Google has experimented with an enterprise version of Google Glass, but interrupted the second iteration. His intended successor, Project Iris, is also dead.
Smart glasses are more accessible to consumers, but they “only” project simple data into the field of vision, not 3D objects or avatars. A recent example is BMW ConnectedRide smart glasses. Meta has the Stories of Ray-Ban in its portfolio, which allow users to take photos, record videos, listen to music and podcasts, send messages via Whatsapp and Messenger, and make phone calls.
MicroLED display technology is expensive
According a roadmap disclosed in March, Meta plans to release the first “real” AR headset for developers and demonstration purposes in 2025. The information, on the other hand, already speaks of next year. The helmet, called “Orion”, will be able to project high quality holograms into the environment.
Part of the underlying technology would be British manufacturer Plessey’s microLED displays, which Meta has acquired. However, according to a recent report by The Information, Meta struggled to make the screens bright enough to be useful in normal lighting conditions. In addition, it was difficult to reduce the defects that occurred during the development process.
Displays use expensive equipment, silicon carbide, which is also used in the mirrors of space telescopes. “Silicon carbide is more effective as a waveguide than glass,” writes The Information. Simply put, waveguides are transparent structures that allow light to move or propagate in a controlled manner. Digital content is projected into the field of view through such a thin, transparent waveguide layer.
LCoS technology planned for consumer version of Meta’s AR headset
Plessey’s silicon carbide screens are said to have a field of view of around 70 degrees. They will be used in Orion demonstration units next year, as the production process is already too advanced to switch to another technology now. The field of view is larger than the glass-based waveguides used in devices such as the Hololens. These have a field of view of around 50 degrees.
For cost reasons, Meta decided to go back to glass for the 2027 version of its consumer AR headset, dubbed Artemis. An older but much cheaper liquid crystal technology (LCoS, Liquid Crystal on Silicon) will be used. The downside is that the field of view is limited to around 50 degrees.
According to The Information, Meta only expects to sell a few tens of thousands of Artemis headsets in the first year.
“The Stage” input device also loses functionality
Still for cost reasons, the functionalities of the input and calculation device “The Stage” have been greatly reduced. The oval device is designed to provide some computing power and is connected to the AR headset via 5G. It is controlled by a touch interface. The prototypes included a LIDAR sensor capable of sensing the environment and transmitting objects, faces and bodies to the digital world. A projector could have projected images onto surfaces to show others what you see without the need for headphones.
A color camera was also planned. This feature remains. The lidar system and projector, however, were canceled due to high costs, Meta employees speculate.
According Meta roadmap leaked, a neural wristband could also be used as an input device. The wristband would be able to convert finger movements, such as swipe gestures, into commands using artificial intelligence. In a later stage, the bracelet should become a “smartwatch with a neural interface”.
Meta is not abandoning microLED technology, however, and continues to work with Plessey on improvements. It’s still unclear when the technology will be ready for widespread use.
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