DigiLens is a new waveguide hardware manufacturer that just announced their flagship smart glasses, geared particularly towards developers.
DigiLens CEO Chris Picket made time for an interview with ARPost last week in advance of the product launch to give us a sneak peak at both the hardware and the company’s vision for the future of AR smart glasses.
If you’re a consumer, you probably get excited about consumer smart glasses. If you’re an experience designer, you know that consumer AR hardware can be constraining. The hardware is inflexible and you can end up getting pigeonholed into whatever software constraints the hardware manufacturers send baked in. DigiLens envisions something different.
“Our strategy is to empower the forward-leaning XR companies in the ecosystem to capitalize on the strengths of an emerging horizontal market,” Picket said in a release shared with ARPost.
The company’s first product, the Design v1 smart glasses, is built from the ground up for developers around the Visualize Framework. The software is Android-based but gives developers the freedom to use their own unique skills. The hardware is modular in design giving developers more material freedom and allowing DigiLens to upgrade individual components.
“We are creating an XR blueprint for the ecosystem to take, add to, and adapt as needed for their individual markets and their unique XR software development needs,” Picket said in the release. “Expanding the pool of experts and democratizing ideas across the spectrum is what the market has missed to date.”
DigiLens does this through a network of partners that Picket says allows them to “Stand on the shoulders of giants.”
“We’re trying to use everything we can to know which dark alleys to not go down and how to run as fast as possible,” Picket told ARPost.
You’ve Never Seen Modular Components Like This
We’ve seen modular components creeping into the XR space for a while now. VIVE arguably came to the field first launching adapters and accessories instead of constantly releasing new headsets. In the AR space, the newest headset announced by Lenovo and ThinkReality features modular components, but only those that affect how the smart glasses fit the user.
The modularity of Design v1 smart glasses works on the functional level, allowing the user to essentially use the framework and components to build their own smart glasses down to the electronics, displays, and processors. It will also make it easier for DigiLens to update individual components as they make improvements.
“Every month we can send [developers] new waveguide displays that are better in some material way, and they can click off the old one and change it,” said Picket. “We can update every month and that’s what it’s going to take. The software has to come.”
As developers find the best hardware configuration for their software, Picket envisions Digilens creating platform-specific headsets with those specific configurations.
“I think what we’re announcing is the most advanced set of AR glasses in the world,” said Picket.
The Power Behind the Frames of Design v1 Smart Glasses
So, what hardware specifications does Design v1 come equipped with out of the gate?
For one, it’s the first AR headset with the Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 chip. This chip powers, among other advanced functionalities, a gaze-control user interface with support coming for full 6 degree-of-freedom tracking.
The display is the DigiLens Crystal50 Waveguide with a 720p projector. The result is a 50-degree field-of-view with 80% transparency and 400% less “eyeglow.” These statistics have aesthetic benefits as well as more practical benefits in terms of actual operation – trends that we’ll return to in a moment.
One of the many modular components of Design v1 is the battery. This means that an old battery can be quickly swapped out for a fresh one during long use sessions. However, the smart glasses can also connect to an external power source for even longer marathon use cases.
“First and foremost for software developers, we expect these to be for long-wear use cases,” said Picket.
Versatile and Efficient
Increased transparency and decreased eyeglow mean that when a user is using the smart glasses, other people can see their eyes. They look less like robots than users of other smart glasses and specifically other waveguide displays. This also makes Design v1 easier to use for outdoor designing and experience testing.
“One of our investors is Niantic,” said Picket. “That’s an outside-only experience.”
Perhaps more importantly, these statistics are symptomatic of high efficiency. Decreasing eyeglow means increasing efficiency, which decreases the weight, battery use, and heat involved in the operation. While we don’t usually have to think too much about heat and weight in computing anymore, these become vital statistics in the world of head-mounted displays.
“More light to the eye means less light has to be put into the waveguide from the projector, which means less thermal and less battery,” explained Picket.
The feeling of heat is also reduced in Design v1 because most of the heavy computing is done on a component above the bridge of the nose and vented away from the user. It’s an impressive bit of design but still relies on the maximized efficiency because putting big computing on the front of the smart glasses would lead to uneven weight distribution.
Other headset manufacturers have attempted to avoid this by putting batteries and computers in the earpieces to balance the weight of the displays in the front but that comes with its own tradeoffs.
Smart Glasses Shipping Now
Designers looking to work with the DigiLens Design v1 smart glasses can reach out now for information and preorder. The headsets are shipping now to qualified partners and are expected to be “available in volume” this summer.