Qualcomm and Microsoft are partnering to develop a new chip to power future lightweight virtual and augmented reality (AR) glasses. The move is a sign of a quickening effort to make VR gear easier to wear. “Lightweight design is essential because as people use these devices in their everyday life, no one is going to want the size of the current VR and AR glasses,” Bob Bilbruck, CEO of VR firm Captjur, told Lifewire in an email interview. “The Metaverse is an overlay of the real world and your digital world, and you will be able to seamlessly go between the two for services, entertainment, banking, experiences, etc. And the lightweight design is essential for this adoption.”
The goal of the new chip is to do away with the heavy designs of current virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Quest 2 that weigh down the faces of users. Tech companies hope to make headsets users can comfortably wear all day.
“Our goal is to inspire and empower others to collectively work to develop the metaverse future—a future that is grounded in trust and innovation,” said Rubén Caballero, corporate vice president of Mixed Reality at Microsoft, in the news release. “We look forward to working with Qualcomm Technologies to help the entire ecosystem unlock the promise of the metaverse.”
Smaller headsets may soon be on the way to a store near you. Shiftall recently showed off the MeganeX, a pair of compact goggles that use MicroOLED displays. It weighs 8.8 ounces, has 120Hz MicroOLED displays, and can contain an optional temperature-altering accessory that creates immersive heating and cooling effects. The headset is expected to be released this spring for around $900. TCL also recently unveiled prototype AR glasses that offer a microLED holographic optical AR experience. The side of the frame has a touch control surface where you can swipe and tap to interact with the content on the display. The company claims that using the glasses will make it feel like you are watching a 140-inch screen. Apple, meanwhile, is expected to launch a lightweight AR headset sometime this year. The Apple headset is rumored to have a design as close as possible to regular prescription eyeglasses.
Chips aren’t the only things holding back the development of lightweight VR headsets, though. The primary barrier to “truly lightweight, slim, and ultimately fashionable” VR headsets is the emergence of pervasive 5G high-speed cellular networks, Amir Bozorgzadeh, CEO of VR firm Virtuleap, told Lifewire in an email interview. New 5G tech could allow much of the processing work that headsets are currently burdened with to be offloaded, so the gear you wear on your face doesn’t have to do much work.
“Only until 5G becomes pervasive and available at its highest bandwidths will we be able to unlock mass adoption of VR, as well as unleash the full potential of augmented reality (AR) in terms not only of the respective hardware but the seamless experience promised as the Metaverse,” Bozorgzadeh added. Lighter, advanced materials could also make for a more comfortable headset for users. Researchers are even considering using diamonds as lightweight materials for personal electronics like VR headsets. “Diamond materials make for a smaller form factor, thus taking up less space than others,” Adam Khan, founder of AKHAN Semiconductor, a high-tech materials company, told Lifewire in an email interview. “Advanced materials also lead to increased power; devices are able to use more power without needing more material, which improves battery life.”