On September 1st, computer chip developer Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) displayed the VR820 , a new reference platform for virtual reality devices, at the IFA 2016 Convention. The company is known for its processor chips which power devices from brands like Sony to Motorola, and for releasing reference designs that bring down the price of devices holding Qualcomm chips. Now, one of those reference designs is taking on the virtual reality headset market with a platform for an all around VR display.
The Pico Neo is one example of Qualcomm’s newest reference platform. While the VR820 design has in mind a device with an active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panel that can handle anything up to 70Hz, more familiar headsets like Oculus Rift can support a refresh rate of 90Hz. To compensate for this, the Snapdragon 820 chip can support a screen of 1440 x 1440 pixels, up from 1080 x 1200 pixels that the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift offer. Add a six-axis motion tracker, two cameras for eye tracking, and a camera facing forward for augmented reality games (such as Pokemon Go) and you have a computing platform for a stand alone virtual reality headset.
Not only do virtual reality devices sometime present too much information to users, they do a poor job of prioritizing the space available in augmented reality (AR) environments to portray advertisements on empty real-world surfaces, for example. Qualcomm seeks to avoid this by using the technology protected by U.S. Patent No. 9317972, entitled User Interface for Augmented Reality Enabled Device. The patent discloses a method of displaying augmented reality contents which involves receiving a camera scan of an environment in view of a user, assigning surface priority and surface trackability levels for each surface in the environment, assigning content priority levels for augmented reality contents and displaying augmented reality contents on real-world surfaces based on the assigned surface priority, surface trackability and content priority levels. The system could determine whether a user was at work, home, a business meeting or a social event in order to determine the priority of augmented reality content to be displayed.
Improvements to conventional augmented reality applications are at the center of U.S. Patent No. 9317972, which is titled Method and Apparatus for Controlling Augmented Reality. It claims a method for use with an augmented reality enabled device (ARD) which involves determining that an object in received image data has been selected based on selection criteria, the criteria including the user’s capability in handling the ARD, and causing an augmentation to be rendered with the object if it has been determined that the object has been selected. The use of the selection criteria allows a user to interact with an augmented reality environment without having to hold a joystick or other piece of hardware to make the selection, thus keeping hands free for better interactions with the AR environment.
One drawback of augmented reality devices is the need to hold the device in view of an object to be augmented while augmentation occurs, which can contribute to arm fatigue. U.S. Patent No. 9171384, entitled Hands-Free Augmented Reality for Wireless Communication Devices, describes a technique for executing an augmented reality application with a wireless communication devices (WCD) which involves receiving a plurality of frames representing a portion of a scene, converting the image frames into a single picture, requesting augmented reality content for the picture from an AR database and processing the AR content to overlay the single picture. This allows a device user to capture a scene and view augmentations, such as retail store or business info for a building, without having to hold the device in the direction of the building.
By 2022 the market for virtual reality is projected to be nearly $34 billion. That’s a sharp rise from $1 billion in 2015. If this reference platform can somehow speed up the availability of virtual reality headsets, and bring down the price, then Qualcomm’s VR820 reference design may become a major player in the VR market.