Hands-on with DigiLens Design v1

Photo by Road to VR

After the initial demo I got to check out the Design v1 itself which is surprisingly small considering it’s fully standalone. While you can plug in an external battery to extend the life, everything is built into the glasses, including the Snapdragon XR2 processor, sensors, memory, etc.

Compared to something like HoloLens 2 or Magic Leap, which are far bulkier, the Design v1 is quite impressive for a reference headset which the company expects will shrink further as productization happens and modularity concessions are no longer necessary. Unlike many of the bulky bird-bath optical approaches out there that will never be mistaken for mere glasses, with Design v1, DigiLens is demonstrating that its waveguides can be the basis for a truly glasses-sized AR device.

Photo by Road to VR

Granted, there’s still a good deal of ergonomics to work out. As I donned the Design v1, they were front-heavy and didn’t want to stay on my nose too readily. But at this stage, that’s all part of the idea behind a modular reference design—companies will be able to experiment and swap out parts to iterate until they have something they can bring to market.

Peering through the optics themselves, I saw the impressively wide field-of-view (50° diagonal) with full color right off the bat. While 50° still doesn’t feel like quite enough for fully immersive AR, it’s starting to approach to realm of practical usability compared to some first-gen AR headsets which were closer to 30° diagonally.

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Photo by Road to VR

And while the Design v1 is largely a hardware development kit, the company has whipped up a basic gaze-based software interface with a handful of demos showcasing a range of use-cases. One demo played a 3D movie while another showed a remote support use-case where a remote observer could see ‘through my eyes’ (via the front-mounted camera) in order to guide me through any kind of procedure. At the same time that the remote observer could see my view, I could see a view of them via their webcam.

There was also a demo showcasing basic 6DOF tracking. Floating before me I saw a small representation of the Solar system with the Sun at the middle and some other bodies floating around it. I could walk around the Sun model to see it from all angles. Compared to productized XR devices, the 6DOF tracking wasn’t very precise and the content didn’t feel particularly locked to the world around me. However, it’s built on the same computer-vision based inside-out tracking approach that we’ve seen successfully deployed in many other finished products; I imagine this is a matter of properly optimizing the tracking software more than a limitation of the hardware.

Image courtesy DigiLens

Another advantage DigiLens touts over the competition is less eye-glow than similar devices—eye-glow being how much the displays light up and block an outside observer from seeing your eyes. The company claims it has four times less eyeglow than HoloLens 2.

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Photo by Road to VR

DigiLens says the Design v1 will become available to select partners at the end of June. It remains to be seen if the company will succeed in accelerating the consumerization of AR glasses, or just how long that might take, but Design v1 makes for a pretty compelling hardware demo for any companies hoping to be early movers in the space.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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  • Bob

    Things that are “modular” never turn out successful.

    • The PC (IBM “Project Chess”) proved quite successful as a modular design?

  • Ad

    If this is less than a thousand then it’s not a bad idea. I’d probably want to get one of these if there wasn’t already Project North Star.

  • Mad Max 2025

    I hope that in 5 years time , these AR glasses are affordable for most consumers. Can’t wait for that time to happen. Now using my Oculus Quest 1 as a primitive black/white AR passthrough headset while going to the supermarket, trainstation, other places to impress people for fun and free interesting chat.

  • wheeler

    I’m personally not even looking for that great of visual fidelity out of AR glasses–it’s not like I’m dreaming of watching movies or playing games in them. From a practical standpoint, I’m looking for something that can replace basic smartphone functions like checking and interacting with text messages, notifications, calendars, to-do lists, browsing webpages, etc etc. E.g. I would like to be able to walk through a store with a list of items projected in front of me and check them off as I find them.

    The process of doing these things on a smartphone is horrible. Constantly taking a phone in and out of your pocket and turning on/unlocking the screen is high friction. Having to fully occupy one hand for viewing and two hands for input (and then having to put the phone down again when you want to act on the information displayed) is limiting. Shifting focus to a tiny screen that can hardly hold any information is also limiting. Fumbling around with crappy error prone touchscreen interfaces for input is clunky and cumbersome. Smartwatches are hardly any better.

    If I could have a heads up display with monochrome color mostly visible in daylight, that look like glasses (or even safety glasses–the bulk on top of the frame pictured above here is a bit too much), and that offload compute to my smartphone (hell, I’d run a wire down my shirt to the smartphone), I’d be all over it. Wouldn’t be appealing as a mass market device but I don’t really care about that.

    Designing a user interface and input for such a system would certainly be quite difficult though. I don’t want to use feedbackless hand tracking for a variety of reasons (similar to all of the problems it presents in VR). Something combining eye-tracking and devices that mount to the back of your fingers that give feedback (similar to the Apple AR patent) seems more practical. I’ve heard it said that AR must be able to infer your context in order to be used effectively but I’m not really convinced of that. If the input is good enough, you should be able to intentionally switch to the appropriate context.

    • “Heads up, hands free” immersive computing…smartphone replacement; the mass market transition.

      Not surprised to see Digilens at forefront; SBG Labs (later rebranded as Digilens) was founded by UK scientist Jonathan Waldern, following his early VR venture “Virtuality” (W Industries).

      I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using both Magic Leap and Hololens, it’s fantastic that Digilens have launched this development kit to push the industry forward, and look forward to trying it soon. Happy XR!

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  • Wow, amazing hands-on, Ben! It is very interesting… but I wonder what compromises have they done to put everything inside that small headset… I mean, the battery must be small, the xr2 probably underclocked to not heat that much, etc…

  • Lhorkan

    Funny that one of the related articles is from 2018, when they also made a reference headset – I wonder if it that ever got picked up by any manufacturers. The new waveguides definitely look very promising though, I sure hope something does come of it.

    • benz145

      I believe the tech they were showcasing in that headset has moved forward to what we’re seeing today, but now with more compact lenses.