Most conversations covering Augmented Reality glasses are currently focused on the Microsoft Hololens and the Meta 2 — followed by the rumors around Magic Leap. But there are many more players in the field such as ODG, Avegant and DAQRI. Last week, I had a meeting with DAQRI to get some updates on the product developments and to test their latest smart glasses. Here are some of my impressions.
It is no secret that the Los Angeles-based DAQRI has had some ups and downs — big investments and delays in production. When they started with the Augmented Reality helmet for construction, the media picked it up as the new star on the horizon. In the tech startup world we say: ‘they’ve found their niche’. However, the challenges for hardware producers are always abundant: whether it is the need for huge investments or the dependence on the market being ready for your product. When I tested the helmet for the first time last year I realized that it will take some time until this is a market-ready product, which is the case with almost all smart glasses.
From helmet to smart glasses
We’ve gotten used to testing all relevant smart glasses from Google Glass to Epson Moverio as well as everything from the Microsoft Hololens to the Meta 2. Since we are creating Augmented Reality applications with our own enterprise platform, the hardware producers are often interested in connecting their devices to our ecosystem. This gives me a great opportunity to compare the different headsets as they come out. I try to be as objective as possible but obviously testing with different applications and in different environments is sometimes a challenge.
It seemed that DAQRI realized that the niche for the helmet is quite small and that the construction business wouldn’t generate enough revenue. This led to the introduction of Daqri’s smart glasses. The specs of the glasses are mainly the same as from the helmet — only the thermal camera is missing. I’ve tried a test version with two different scenarios: a visualization of a jet engine and a virtual earth simulation.
Good display, comfortable glasses
The smart glasses have a belt to fix them properly on the head. You can pull it, put it on your head and it automatically adjusts the device. There is no need to adjust the belt or the glasses like you do with the Hololens. The first surprise: it is actually quite comfortable. Unlike other smart glasses, it is not heavy on the nose because they only weigh 312g (Hololens 579g, Meta 2 500g, ODG R9 189g, DAQRI helmet 1,500g), and the belt does a good job. This is particularly important for enterprise use cases and I see a lot of potential since you can move your head around without losing the device.
I started with the jet engine — a simple scenario with a turbine using object gaze to select items. It worked well and I had the second surprise: the display is very clear and bright. With a resolution of 1,360 x 768 pixel and a 44 degree field-of-view (Hololens <40, Meta 2 ca. 90, ODG R9 50, DAQRI helmet 44) the smart glasses are able to provide good results. If I compare how the content is displayed on the DAQRI device with the Hololens, I would say it is more or less the same grade of transparency.
Tracking under construction
No other Augmented Reality glasses have a more stable and precise tracking (SLAM, not talking about object tracking) than the Hololens — this also applies to DAQRI’s smart glasses. Unfortunately, I could only test the marker tracking but not SLAM. As with most glasses, the DAQRI device doesn’t have an object tracking yet, which is very important for enterprise scenarios that need to place the holographic objects precisely on the real object. I am still surprised that no one of the hardware producers is aware of this.
The smart glasses from DAQRI come with a belt pack that contains the battery as well as the processing unit. The battery should last about four hours, depending on what you are doing. Interestingly, the battery can be changed and a battery pack can be connected while the glasses are still in use. This is not possible with the Hololens. The belt pack is connected to the glasses via cable and weighs 425g. In comparison, the Hololens and ODG R9 are stand-alone devices, the Meta 2 is tethered to a computer.
The doors are open for DAQRI
Overall, if DAQRI solves the tracking issues, adds more options to control the device, like hand gestures or eye-tracking, and lowers the development kit price of $4.950, there is a big chance to be an important player in the Augmented Reality enterprise market. In order to reach that, DAQRI has to prove that they’re able to produce and ship the smart glasses. But they are not alone here: the ODG R9s are not available yet, Meta delivered a few devices but has a huge order list to work off. All of these players should do their homework before Magic Leap enters the market at the end of the year. Lets see who uses the time wisely.
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