In this post, Brian Vogelsang, Senior Director of Product Management for Qualcomm Technologies’ XR business group, where he is responsible for strategy and partnerships globally, discusses trends driving the XR industry forward, use cases with big potential, and possible challenges for the market.
This is the first post in Tobii’s blog series “The future of XR,” where Tobii’s business partners share their views on the development of the XR industry. (For ease of discussion, XR is a term that encompasses all augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR, VR and MR).
What is the most important trend that will impact the XR market in the coming 1–3 years?
Brian Vogelsang: One way to use AR with a smartphone is by looking through the screen and augmenting what the camera sees. That technology has been used for the past decade in both consumer and enterprise, and Qualcomm Technologies was a pioneer in Smartphone AR. There have been many games and applications developed using Smartphone AR, but it is limited in terms of the immersion because you’re seeing a video of the augmented world through such a small frame, and your smartphone’s screen can only display what the camera sees, not what you see. This makes it hard to trick your brain into believing what you are seeing is real, and there can be arm fatigue holding the phone up for long periods.
By moving this experience to a headworn XR Viewer, a light-weight XR device tethered to a 5G smartphone over USB-C, the augmentation starts to feel more real and this, to us, will be a transformative trend for the XR industry in the next couple years. We see the smartphone becoming a key ingredient in powering immersive AR and VR headsets, especially as 5G-enabled smartphones proliferate. Using a 5G-enabled XR viewer allows compute-intensive, latency-sensitive processing workloads to be done at the edge of the 5G network or streamed from a nearby PC — we classify this as spilt-rendering or Boundless XR. With 5G connectivity, XR viewers can stream VR and AR content and update almost instantly because of 5G’s high-speed throughput. 5G’s ultra-low latency also provides a smooth, lag-free experience to deliver better graphics at a higher resolution. This will help propel XR from a niche market to the masses.
What do you think the biggest challenges are to XR adoption today?
Brian Vogelsang: The XR experience today is good and continuously improving, but there is still room for growth. The technology and headsets need to become smaller, lighter weight, and have longer battery life. The challenge is making the technology more power-efficient so it can be used 8–12 hours without a charge, but not adding weight or heat. This means all the components used in a device need to be more power-efficient. Display and optics also need improvement, particularly in AR. We need to see higher resolution displays with wider fields of view, and they need to be more thermally efficient and at a lower cost. At Qualcomm Technologies, we take a systems approach to designing chipsets to help with this challenge. Our heterogeneous compute architecture is designed to be power-efficient and smaller, which helps reduce the size of the headsets while packing more technology into smaller footprints. Cost is another barrier to adoption. However, as the technology begins to scale in its deployment costs will come down. Today, both AR and VR are benefiting from sourcing components and technologies used in smartphones, and the prices are reducing annually as the industry begins to scale.
Which industrial or enterprise use cases will benefit the most from XR and why?
Brian Vogelsang: AR and VR are being used to optimize performance and get jobs done faster, safer, and more accurately by connecting people, information, and equipment. From real-time communication and support, to training and telepresence, these are the top use cases driving commercial adoption.
AR is a spectrum from Assisted Reality, monocular glasses such as Vuzix or Google Glass that act as a heads-up display, to fully immersive binocular Augmented Reality devices like HoloLens 2. Assisted Reality typically enables the user to see videos or documents that act as instructions. It can also make it possible for the user to view critical steps in a workflow to create audit trails, and even become the instructor to teach the steps of a process through guided instruction. This could range from safety checklists, detailed instructions for complex assemblies, quality control, or for in-service inspection.
AR glasses can allow a user, via a digital overlay, to see an entire workflow process handsfree, away from a computer or manual allowing them to stay focused on the task at hand vs. flipping through a paper manual or PDF on a PC. This is also a great way to troubleshoot equipment with a remote expert or mentor. In real-time, that expert can guide through maintenance or repair tasks remotely, without being there physically with the worker. This use case is seeing increased adoption with the pandemic as companies look for new ways to reduce the risk from fieldwork.
VR is more about simulation and immersive training. It can simulate an environment, such as a manufacturing plant or an assembly line to train workers in a virtual format mimicking the real world. The cost of dedicating a factory line solely to training, or taking one offline to train, is very high. And, you probably don’t want to train someone on a live production line for many reasons including safety concerns. Putting someone in VR allows you to train in simulation, in a safer environment, and at a lower cost. With VR, companies can train more employees simultaneously, increase their retention of the task, and do so with greater employee satisfaction and engagement.
Which industries do you think will have the brightest future and benefit from XR applications?
Brian Vogelsang: We have seen XR transform how people connect and communicate across many industries. Most recently, we’ve worked with verticals in the manufacturing, healthcare, retail, logistics, education, entertainment, and a few more and have seen them gain significant efficiency and effectiveness through various use cases.
AR use cases such as guided and remote assistance, training & collaboration. For VR use cases, we’ve seen design, training, rehabilitation, pain management, and education. It’s in Qualcomm Technologies’ DNA to make long, industry-changing bets on breakthrough technology and we fundamentally believe that XR is the next mobile compute platform. Our long-term vision is that within a decade, these sleek XR glasses will transform every aspect of the way the world operates.
Can you describe Qualcomm Technologies’ role in the XR industry?
Brian Vogelsang: Qualcomm Technologies has a unique role in the XR ecosystem, and we classify it as our four-pillar strategy:
- First, provide the best silicon/chipset for mobile XR — we offer high performance, low-power, integrated platform solutions that support truly immersive XR experiences. Notably, we have our cutting-edge XR SoC including the Qualcomm® Snapdragon™ XR1 and XR2 Platform(s), that currently power over 30+ XR devices already launched.
- Second, is our software, the perception algorithms that need to be enabled for XR, including the display and GPU algorithms, and features like 6DoF/SLAM that are developed and integrated by our team and optimized for power and performance.
- Third, is developing Qualcomm Technologies XR reference designs as part of the Qualcomm® HMD Accelerator Program in which we select suppliers for hardware components and combine it with our technology in a reference design so our customers can use it as a guideline and enable them to go to commercialization quickly.
- The fourth and final pillar is a culmination of all our efforts. With initiatives like Qualcomm® XR Enterprise Program, we work with different solution providers who understand how to apply technology on the hardware and sell solutions to solve specific enterprise problems such as training, design & collaboration, remote expert, or guided work instructions. Recently, we’ve collaborated with 15+ Global Operators to bring light-weight XR glasses, what we call ‘XR Viewers’ tethered to smartphones powered by Snapdragon 855 or 865 Mobile Platforms. By working in close coordination with ecosystem platform partners that use our technologies, such as Facebook Oculus, Google, Microsoft, HTC Vive, and others can help scale the industry.
Qualcomm Snapdragon is a product of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries. Qualcomm HMD Accelerator Program and Qualcomm XR Enterprise Program are programs of Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.