Meta’s first everyday AR headset is set to hit the market in 2027. However, the ambitious project must first accept financial and technical cutbacks.
An everyday AR headset is the holy grail for tech companies, whether it is for the metaverse or simply to replace the smartphone. Although there have been several experiments, few headsets have reached consumers.
Hololens 2, like Magic Leap 2, is an enterprise AR headset. In addition to an uncertain future, these glasses suffer from problems such as a narrow field of view and a very high price. Google experimented with an enterprise version of Google Glass, but discontinued the second iteration. Its planned successor, Project Iris, is also dead.
Smart glasses are more within reach of consumers, but they “only” project simple data into the field of view, not 3D objects or avatars. A recent example is BMW’s ConnectedRide smart glasses. Meta has the Ray Ban Stories in its portfolio, which allow users to take photos, record videos, listen to music and podcasts, send messages via Whatsapp and Messenger, and make phone calls.
MicroLED display technology is expensive
According to a roadmap leaked in March, Meta plans to release the first “real” AR headset for developers and demo purposes in 2025. The Information, on the other hand, is already talking about next year. The headset, called “Orion,” will be able to project high-quality holograms into the environment.
Part of the technology behind it is said to be the microLED displays from British manufacturer Plessey, which Meta has acquired. However, according to a recent report from The Information, Meta has struggled to make the displays bright enough to be useful in normal lighting conditions. In addition, it has been difficult to reduce defects that occurred during the development process.
The displays use an expensive material, silicon carbide, which is also used in space telescope mirrors. “Silicon carbide is more effective as a waveguide than glass,” writes The Information. Simply put, waveguides are transparent structures that allow light to travel or propagate in a controlled manner. Digital content is projected into the field of view through such a thin, transparent waveguide layer.
LCoS technology planned for consumer version of Meta’s AR headset
Plessey’s silicon carbide displays are said to have a field of view of about 70 degrees. They will be used in the Orion demo units next year, as the production process is already too advanced to switch to another technology now. The field of view is larger than the glass-based waveguides used in devices such as the Hololens. These have a field of view of about 50 degrees.
For cost reasons, Meta has decided to go back to glass for the 2027 version of its consumer AR headset, dubbed Artemis. An older but much cheaper liquid crystal technology (LCoS, Liquid Crystal on Silicon) will be used. The disadvantage is that the field of view is limited to around 50 degrees.
According to The Information, Meta expects to sell only a few tens of thousands of Artemis headsets in the first year.
“The Stage” input device also loses features
Also for cost reasons, the features of the input and computing device “The Stage” have been greatly reduced. The oval device is designed to provide some of the computing power and is connected to the AR headset via 5G. It is controlled by a touch interface. The prototypes included a LIDAR sensor that could detect the environment and transmit objects, faces, and bodies to the digital world. A projector would have been able to project images onto surfaces to show others what you see without the need for a headset.
A color camera was also planned. That feature remains. The Lidar system and projector, however, were canceled due to high costs, Meta employees speculate.
According to the leaked Meta roadmap, a neural wristband could also be used as an input device. The wristband would be able to convert finger movements, such as swiping gestures, into commands thanks to artificial intelligence. In a further step, the wristband should become a “smartwatch with a neural interface”.
Meta is not abandoning the microLED technology, however, and continues to work with Plessey on improvements. It is still uncertain when the technology will be ready for widespread use.