The pandemic has hit also one of the most important technological expo of the year, the CES, that this year was held digitally. Digital events are still less intriguing than physical ones, and this is especially true for CES, an event that is usually all about journalists going around enormous venues interviewing people and especially trying and reviewing new and innovative devices. With this digital edition, of course, we had nothing of this, and the CES was just a bunch of video announcements.
And if this CES has been a bit of a disappointment in general, this holds even more for AR and VR, for which we have no crucial announcement. We had no big reveal, no breakthrough innovation showcased. We had a few interesting news, but nothing truly disruptive. We were all expecting this since AR and VR are a bit in a transitional moment and the biggest brands (like Facebook and Apple) have their events through which they’ll announce their new devices, but for me, this lack of news was worse than the expected. Anyway, this doesn’t change much the outlook on AR and VR, so please don’t go to the streets now screaming “VR is dead” 😀
Anyway, a tradition is a tradition, and since every year I make a summary of the best XR news from CES (see this long post from the past year, for instance), here you are my selection of the best AR and VR news from it!
The announcement of the Senseglove Nova has been one of my favorite of the whole CES. Senseglove is an “affordable” enterprise haptic glove and it has just been upgraded to a version that is much more comfortable and usable than the last one.
For sure you remember my review of the Senseglove devkit and my opinion was that it was an interesting device, but pretty bulky and especially difficult to wear. All these problems have vanished away with the Senseglove Nova: the gloves appear no more as exoskeletons but as thick gloves, that you can wear very easily like a standard pair of gloves. Look at the comparison between how you had to wear them before
And how you can wear them now. Look how it is incredibly easier and faster!
They work with tendons that can apply a strong force to the various fingers (up to 20N) in a natural way so that to make them close around a virtual object without them trespassing its borders. Together with force feedback, also the vibrohaptic feedback has been improved so that to be more realistic, even if now it is applied only on the thumb and index finger.
The gloves are now fully wireless (do you remember the thick cables with the big box that I had to set up??) and are ideal to work with standalone headsets like the Pico Neo Eye 2.
The new light and wireless shape of the Senseglove Nova (Image from VRrOOm)
It is impressive how the product has evolved from the previous devkit. It’s like night and day for what concerns usability. I think that SenseGlove has reduced a lot the gap it had with the Dexmo Gloves. I really make my compliments to SenseGlove, and I’m sure that this device will be successful among small and medium enterprises. The price is $5000, and while it may seem enormous to standard humans like us, it is an affordable price for enterprises, and much less than what the competitors ask (at least 3x this amount). You can already preorder it on the Senseglove website if you want!
(Disclaimer: one of my Patrons works for Senseglove… this doesn’t influence my opinion on these gloves, but you had better know)
Read more about this news on VRrOOm.
CREAL is a very interesting Swiss startup that Road To VR is following since some years. It is a company working on a light-field display, that is a display that tries to emulate exactly how the light rays should arrive in your eyes. So, if traditional displays are just shiny colored planes, lightfield displays emit light rays so that if the scene you were watching was real, you would have exactly the same light rays (with the same intensity, direction, etc…) hitting both your eyes. It is a perfect recreation of visual reality, and of course, it solves all the issues that current AR/VR headsets may have (like the vergence-accommodation problem).
The magic of lightfield display lets you focus on objects at different depths
Two years ago, CREAL needed two big black boxes to provide the lightfield magic, but this year, thanks to their bright minds and the millions received as an investment, they have been able to miniaturize the display. The Swiss startup has shown at digital CES both an AR and VR prototype, and they both resemble the currently available headsets. The plan for the end of 2022 is to integrate everything in an even smaller form factor so that the lightfield can fit inside standard frames. My bet is that, given the talent of these people, they won’t even arrive at this stage, and will be bought by some major headset manufacturer, like Apple or Facebook.
Road To VR.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
The new enterprise Lenovo ThinkReality A3 glasses had already been at first leaked and then announced before CES. They are augmented reality glasses devoted to the enterprise, especially to let people see multiple AR displays in front of them. They are marketed mostly for this purpose: to let you have a professional workspace with up to 5 high-resolution virtual displays around your computer so that you can operate at the maximum of your efficiency. I would love to have this kind of setup, and my friend Max would also get crazy for something like this.
The truth is, while I love the concept, I’m pretty skeptical, and I will be until I have tried them. Lenovo says that the optics technology is similar to the one of Nreal Light, and Nreal has around 50° of FOV. I wonder what is the point of having 5 virtual displays if all of them are semi-transparent, and you can barely see one with the limited FOV of the headset. But maybe the FOV of this headset is bigger: other birdbath glasses, like RealMax, arrive up to 100° of field of view, so it may be that also the ThinkReality A3 has a FOV big enough to let you enjoy your virtual displays.
Road To VR and Engadget.
Panasonic VR glasses
At CES 2020, Panasonic showcased new VR glasses with a pretty cool steampunk look that went immediately viral. This year, they have presented an evolution of the previous design.
the one by Huawei, but it costs more than the Quest while having fewer functionalities. I foresee a market for this kind of glasses since they are beautiful to be worn and so they could be used outdoor to watch media (maybe on a plane or a train), but I think the price will be a determining factor to decide their success.
Vuzix is one of the top enterprise smartglasses brand and it has announced at CES a new line of smartglasses, that has won 3 Innovation Awards.
We don’t have many technical details on this: in the PR statement, it is possible to read that the name is NGSG (Next-Generation SmartGlasses) and that they are “powered by one of the smallest micro-LED display engines in the world, in combination with Vuzix’ proprietary waveguides”. What is cool, watching the video, is that the notifications that the smartglasses project are rendered on both eyes, so with these glasses it is possible to have a 3D display always in front of you. The glasses use very tiny microLED displays manufactured by Jade Bird to make this magic possible.
On the product website and in the above video, there is also mention of integrated noise-canceling microphone and stereo speakers. Of course, these glasses work by being connected to a smartphone, but differently from many other smartglasses on the market, they are connected wirelessly via Bluetooth for an added comfort.
Madison Beer’s VR concert
Sony and Verizon have partnered to create the next generation of VR concerts and have announced this partnership at CES. They have hired the popular singer Madison Beer (I had no idea who she was, honestly) and have made her perform inside a virtual venue for a virtual concert that won’t be available only in streaming, but also via Oculus and PSVR headsets.
You know that I organize VR concerts with VRrOOm (and our last one even had 75M total views!) and I am myself impressed by this performance. Madison’s avatar has been recreated with incredible quality thanks to a special scanning made with a big camera array and her movements have also been perfectly recreated thanks to a full mocap suit. The environment where she has performed in was made in Unreal Engine and the modeling and the shading was so good that for a moment I thought it was a real studio. The whole thing is incredible.
Of course I guess all of this has come for a price. I imagine the total cost of this performance to be in the order of magnitude of millions of dollars, so it has also to be evaluated if this marketing stunt can also become a viable business.
We’ll discover it soon, since the performance is slated to be published later this Winter. For now, kudos to Sony, Verizon and all the others that have collaborated for this amazing project!
Google AR Cloud Streaming
Google has partnered with FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles… do you know that Fiat is from my city in Italy?) to showcase the new Jeep car in an innovative way. As part of FCA’s Virtual Showroom CES event, you can experience the new 2021 Jeep Wrangler 4xe by scanning a QR code with your phone and see its related model in Augmented Reality (AR) in front of you. This may seem nothing new to you since it is just a web page that uses ARCore Scene Viewer.
But Google used its special sauce, that is Google AR Cloud streaming services: if your network is fast enough (ideally, a 5G one) and you are not distant from a Google Edge server, you won’t see the standard 3D model of the Jeep Wrangler, but you will see a much better one. In this version, the Jeep has 4K textures and tens of millions of polygons, and it gets rendered on Google servers and streamed very fast to your smartphone. This way you can see the car exactly with the same quality you would have if you were there at CES, having it in front of you. A magic possible on your phone only thanks to the joint use of 5G and AR.
I tried using it, but I could just see the 3D model of the car. So, I guess it works only in selected cities, but it is anyway nice to see Google investing not only in the streaming of standard games with Stadia but also in the streaming of XR content.
Read more about this news on Google Blog.
If there was an award for the cutest VR product, it would have been won by Pollen Robotics for sure. The French startup has presented at CES 2021 the latest evolution of its robot Reachy, and it is incredibly cute.
It is a robot that can exactly follow the movements that you make with a VR headset. You can don a Valve Index with its controllers, and the robot can replicate exactly the movements of your head and your hands. Of course, since the robot mounts two cameras on its face, you can see what the robot is seeing while you operate it. If the network is fast enough (even here 5G may be very important), you should be able to operate the robot fast and without having much sickness.
The robot’s software is built on the popular open-source robotics operating system, ROS 2 and its price is not that high considering its potentialities: 17,000$. Now it is still a prototypical solution, but in the future it could be used to welcome hosts in a restaurant, to perform dangerous maintenance operations, or to let a famous surgeon perform surgery from a distant place. The mix of 5G, VR, and robotics can be very intriguing.
Y U SO CUTE???
AMD, Intel & NVIDIA
All the major chipset manufacturers have announced something interesting at this CES, and this makes us hope for a year where we’ll have a more powerful computer and more powerful mobile devices to run our AR/VR experiences:
- NVIDIA has announced its RTX30 Laptops, that is laptops running graphics cards from the RTX30 series. RTX 3070 & RTX 3080 options ship from January 26, starting at $1299 & $1999 respectively; while RTX 3060 models start at $999 and ship from February 2. There will be a total of more than 70 models available, for one of the biggest launches that NVIDIA has ever had;
- AMD has launched its Ryzen 5000 mobile processors. This family of processors is targeted at gaming laptops, and two models, in particular, feature very interesting specifications. The Ryzen 95900HX and the Ryzen 9 5980HX have 8-core, 16-thread, with 20MB of combined L2+L3 Cache. The 5900HX boosts up to 4.6GHz though, the 5980HX up to 4.8GHz.
- Intel has answered with its Rocket Lake chips, which should be released in March. Rocket Lake will lead to faster single-threaded core performances, the highest ever had by Intel, and a bit superior to the one of the latest AMD chips. But the multithreaded performances will be inferior to the past since the previous architecture allowed up to 10 cores.
Chinese manufacturer Nolo has presented at CES a standalone headset of its own. Nolo is a company that has always focused its efforts on 6DOF tracking addons for 3DOF glasses, but now, with the slow decline of 3DOF viewers, is trying to enter itself in the market of 6DOF standalone devices.
Its new device is an ODM solution for 6DOF standalone headsets with no name. ODM means that Nolo has made this headset so that other companies can rebrand it and sell it as their own. It also offers some customizations on this reference design, like regular/short-focus display, differentiated configuration, different colors, and so on.
VRFocus and VRScout.
Some other minor news somewhat related to AR/VR that came from this CES were:
- BHaptics has officially launched its Tactsuit X40 haptic vest, that has also won an Innovation Award. More on CES Website;
- Sony has announced its SRS-RA5000 and SRS-RA3000 speakers, that are able to provide 360° high-quality audio all around you. More on VRrOOm;
- Nolo has announced a $200 6DoF Cloud VR Bundle that lets you use a Cardboard together with a Nolo tracking kit to enjoy high-end graphics in VR thanks to Cloud streaming. I’m not very convinced, because if the headset is very subpar, it can’t offer a good experience even with cloud rendering. More on VRScout.
- Many car manufacturers have showcased windshield with AR projections and/or car dashboards that have very sophisticated displays. Among them there were Cadillac and Mercedes. More on Mashable;
- TCL has showcased a new pair of sunglasses with a screen inside that can act as a media viewer for movies that you have on your smartphones. More on The Verge;
- Panasonic has partnered with Illuminarium to create immersive venues where people will be able to live immersive experiences without wearing glasses. Thanks to the 4K projections that will be casted on the walls of these environments, together with high-quality 360° audio and other special effects, people will feel like being in another place, like an African forest. It seems a very cool thing, but it has to be seen if it is financially sustainable. More on VentureBeat and Illuminarium website;
- LG has introduced “Reah Keem”, a virtual influencer that will help in promoting its products. She’s a songwriter and DJ and has already gained 5000 followers. More on VRrOOm;
And that’s it for this roundup of CES 2021! As you have been able to read, there has been no disruptive news, but there have been some cool announcements. I hope you have enjoyed this post, and if you would like to stay up-to-date with AR and VR news, don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!
(Header image by Pollen Robotics)
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