Mobile World Congress 2023 has just kicked off in Barcelona, and Xiaomi is already making its presence known with a physical live event to launch its Xiaomi 13 series of flagship phones and a surprise announcement of a prototype truly AR (augmented reality) smart glasses. wireless.
The key word here is “prototype”, as the glasses apparently won’t be on sale anytime soon. I don’t know why, because I tested it in camera, and it felt more polished and “ready” than most proof-of-concept prototypes.
The official name of the glasses is Xiaomi Wireless AR Smart Glass Explorer Edition, and as the name suggests, the glasses are completely wireless. That alone is impressive, as all other consumer AR glasses from brands like nReal and TCL require a cable to plug into a host device. Xiaomi engineers claim to have developed a proprietary low-latency communication link that allows the wireless connection between the smart glass and the host device to achieve a latency of just 50 milliseconds, which is low enough for the average human cannot detect lag. I demonstrated the glasses for 30 minutes and I sure couldn’t tell.
The smart glass uses a pair of MicroOLED displays to produce visuals with 58PPD (pixel per degree), which, again, is high enough resolution that human eyes cannot detect the visuals. Content streamed in front of my face felt vibrant and vivid, and seemed to float in front of me.
Qualcomm’s Snapdragon XR2 Gen 1 chip, specially designed for these mixed reality/augmented reality headsets, is used to power the smart glass. Considering the technology and the slightly larger than usual size, the goggles can be considered light at 126g.
Xiaomi says it’s been able to keep the weight (relatively) low by constructing the lenses with magnesium alloy and carbon fiber, along with a self-designed silicon-oxygen anode battery that’s smaller size.
The smart glass has two cameras and a sensor on its front side which are used to map the physical space in front of the wearer, after which the glasses can project visuals and graphics onto the “real world”. The demo I tried included a shooter where I planted a machine gun base station on a real table in front of me, and had to shoot down alien-like animals that walked towards me. Another demo had me flip a virtual switch to turn on or off a real Xiaomi lamp that was in the hotel room.
Commands can be made through interaction with the connected smartphone or with hand gestures. The latter is another futuristic breakthrough. So far, AR glasses require users to wear gloves or hand sensors for hand movements, but Xiaomi’s solution allows the sensors to detect my arm, hand and fingers if I place them in front of the eyeglasses.
I can also just use the Xiaomi Smart Glass as a portable display, either playing a video on a huge, immersive virtual screen or having multiple windows floating in front of me. The ability to reach out to move the windows was truly futuristic. Xiaomi engineers likened the experience to Iron Man of Marvel moves. I have an older reference: it sounds like Tom Cruise in Minority Report.
When watching videos, you might want to block the transparent view of the glasses to get more immersion (so the video just floats on a black screen). Most consumer AR glasses now have a physical lens cover. Xiaomi’s prototype instead uses electrochromic technology to darken the lens.
I came out of the demo session very impressed and wishing these would be released soon. I use AR glasses daily (I use the nReal Air) as a portable display, and the necessary cable constantly gets in the way. Even in its current form, Xiaomi’s Wireless AR Smart Glass Explorer Edition can already do more than any other AR glasses currently on the market.
I asked a representative from Xiaomi why the company is making these prototype products which apparently aren’t ready for release anytime soon (the company showed off a prototype robot dog last year and a few years ago a phone with a wrap-around screen). The rep says that Xiaomi engineers like to get into prototypes to push the boundaries and test what’s possible. And while the actual prototype product will never be released as a consumer product, the technology behind the product may be refined for subsequent Xiaomi products.
He cites the robot dog (officially named Xiaomi Cyber Dog) as an example: clearly most people won’t be buying a robot dog anytime soon, but the machine learning chip and scene recognition technology that powers the dog can be used down the line in other Xiaomi products that have more practical real-world use.
And at the end of the day, “it’s just fun to build these things,” he said. I agree.