Niantic Reveals Snapdragon AR2-powered Headset Reference Design for Outdoor Use


Back in early 2021 Pokémon GO developer Niantic gave just a brief tease that it was working on some kind of see-through headset. Now the company has revealed that it’s been working with Qualcomm on a reference AR headset based on the Snapdragon AR2 platform.

Niantic has been quietly developing a sleek reference design for what the company is calling an “outdoor AR headset.” Qualcomm has been part of the project too, with Niantic calling the headset a “shared vision for an outdoor AR headset,” in an announcement this month.

There’s very few actual details on the specs of Niantic’s reference headset, but as far as we know it’s built atop Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon AR2, a platform of chips specially designed to enable compact, low-powered AR headsets and glasses. It isn’t clear if the headset is utilizing a host device (like a smartphone) for additional computing.

Image courtesy Niantic

Compact indeed… while we have very few details on the reference headset, the device is almost certainly using waveguide optics (considering how compact it is). We can also spot three cameras on the front which will be used for positional tracking. And from a render of the Niantic AR headset, it appears to be able to fold in on itself to become more compact for travel. It isn’t clear from the rendering if this is a completely soft strap or if there’s a mechanical hinge hiding somewhere under the cloth-looking struts of the headstrap.

Image courtesy Niantic

In the video above we actually see two different headsets. The first shot is of a white headset and controller that appears to be the same as the render.

Image courtesy Niantic

The second is a black headset and black controller that doesn’t look quite as compact—this is presumably closer to the first version of the headset which the company teased previously.

Considering that only the black headset is shown throughout the bulk of the video, it seems the white headset may not be fully functional just yet.

“The hardware reference design showcases the potential for outdoor-capable AR headsets that can orient themselves using the Niantic map and render information and virtual worlds on top of the physical world,” says Niantic’s Head of AR Headsets, Maryam Sabour. “The reference design will continue to evolve, and we are excited about the new Snapdragon AR2 platform that delivers ground-breaking technology to enable headset manufactures to quickly and more efficiently build sleek, commercial products based on our vision for consumers.

The company is making it clear that this is a reference headset—Niantic doesn’t want to bring it to market on its own, but wants to allow other companies to use it as a blueprint to make their own headsets. And because it’s Niantic, it makes sense that the company is hoping others will build AR headsets specifically for the outdoors.

Most commercial AR headsets to date have poor outdoor capabilities. Meanwhile, Niantic’s entire current business hinges on outdoor games like Pokémon GO, and the company is hoping to become the localization layer that everyone uses to synchronize city-scale AR experiences, via its Lightship Visual Positioning System.

On that front, Niantic’s headset reveal also came alongside the announcement that Lightship VPS will be baked into Snapdragon Spaces, Qualcomm’s AR developer toolset, starting in 2023.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • kool

    Something like this with a similar fov to a VR headset is a start.

  • Im glad they’re developing this stuff and not letting it sit and collect dust, but that jitteryness looks so sickening

    • VR5

      Assuming you even meant motion sickness, since your reference anchor is still the real world and that moves as it should, jittery apparitions won’t cause sickness.

  • The headset does INDEED work with a phone. Qualcomm Snapdragon AR2 reference design is meant for distributed computation, meaning that the virtual elements are rendered on the phone, while the glasses internally elaborate sensors, tracking, and environment understanding

    • silvaring

      Karl Guttag is going to have a field day with this one. Have you checked out his video series with Bradley yet? Some interesting discussion on just how enormous a task pass through AR is when going outdoors, whether its LBS devices (North Focals / HL2), or LCOS (Lumus). He estimates that not even in ten years will outdoor AR be something that is achievable because there’s just too many hard problems that even the best engineers cant overcome when it comes to making something for mass production.

  • Adrian Meredith

    That video was seriously janky even AR on Android isn’t that bad

  • edzieba

    “Actual headset gameplay”
    Yeah, sure. When Hololens used postprocess composited images that were far wider than the actual FoV and occluded the external environment in a manner impossible for view-through displays they were rightly lambasted for it, and so should Niantic.

  • GordonFreeman

    The robot couldn’t even run correctly lol!

    Also while your busy playing on this in public, someone smashes you on the back of the head then runs off with your new AR headset or worse runs over you!

    • kool

      Dont these problems already exist

      • GordonFreeman

        Maybe, but AR is being presented as a use on the go sort of headset where as the Quest 2 its just mobile to take to a friends house.

        If your AR headset is more on show then your more likely to get mugged!

        • kool

          I think ar will show up in helmets and goggles first for active users, then smaller glass like frames for workers and emergency responders. I dont expect glasses anybody can wear until 2029.

  • Didi

    The sleek gray headset is obviously just a concept. Their current real headset is that black one that can be seen in the video. In the video, it looks as if the black headset (which is powered by an XR2 rather than an AR2) is a standalone device, but in other pictures it clearly has cables, so most likely it uses a compute puck.

    The AR2 is a meant to be wirelessly tethered to a Qualcomm-powered phone. Of course Niantic could still put a Qualcomm SoC in the back of the headset, but that would defeat the whole point of the AR2.

    The Augmented Reality quality shown in the video is indeed not great (low quality tracking and graphics) and obviously not filmed through the glasses: The video shows image compositing (video seethrough) rather than optical see-through as the real device would do. And as others mentioned, the augmentable FOV shown in the video is much larger than any optical seethrough device can support today.

    Overall, this doesn’t look great and I’m surprised that Niantic posted this video. Someone at Niantic or Qualcomm must be quite desperate to be in the news.

  • “Allow other companies to use it’s blueprints”, means China. It’s unfortunate they can’t rely on any American company to step up.

    I think that outdoor AR is a bold move. I haven’t seen alot of success in that area. Outdoor use is the one of the few things AR excels at over VR, which is keeping the user within the bounds of the world around them. Most indoor situations might as well use VR. And any headset that can work outdoors can work indoors, just by removing the sunglass filter.

  • Godling77

    Someone kill him pls i can’t take this anymore