Today at AWE 2021, Qualcomm announced Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform, a head-worn AR software suite the company is using to kickstart a broader move towards smartphone-tethered AR glasses.

Qualcomm says its Snapdragon Spaces XR Developer Platform offers a host of machine perception functions that are ideal for smartphone-tethered AR glasses. The software tool kit focuses on performance and low power, and provides the sort of environmental and human interaction stuff it hopes will give AR developers a good starting point.

Still in early access, Qualcomm is initially working with Felix & Paul Studios, holo|one, Overlay, Scope AR, TRIPP, Tiny Rebel Games, NZXR, forwARdgame, Resolution Games, and Trigger Global. Snapdragon Spaces is slated for a more general release in Spring 2022.

Qualcomm isn’t leading the push by itself though. It’s tapped smartphone and AR hardware OEMs including Lenovo, Motorola, OPPO, and Xiaomi as early partners to support what it calls a “cross-device horizontal platform and ecosystem.” Lenovo’s ThinkReality A3 smart glasses tethered to a Motorola smartphone will be the first to work with Snapdragon Spaces.

When Qualcomm makes the push early next year, it will be relying on its telecom partners including Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO, INC. and T-Mobile in the United States; Qualcomm says more will be announced later.

“Snapdragon Spaces enables developers to build 3D applications for AR glasses from scratch or simply add head-worn AR features to existing Android smartphone applications to drive a unified, multi-screen experience between the smartphone screen in 2D and the real world in 3D,” the company says in a press statement. “Developers will also receive a robust resource library that includes documentation, sample code, tutorials, knowledge bases, and tools to help accelerate their development.”

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The company says its platform will include environmental understanding features such as spatial mapping and meshing, occlusion, plane detection, object and image recognition and tracking, local anchors and persistence, scene understanding, positional tracking and hand tracking.

Image courtesy Qualcomm Technologies

Snapdragon Spaces includes SDKs for Unreal Engine and Unity, and is based on OpenXR. It will also integrate with Niantic’s recently launched Lightship ARDK platform, something Qualcomm says will expand Lightship’s reach to “outdoor head-worn use cases and inspire people to explore outside, and to connect and play with others in real time through multi-player functions.”

Qualcomm further announced that it’s acquired the team and “certain technology assets” from HINS SAS and its hand-tracking and gesture recognition subsidiary, Clay AIR. Wikitude, an AR technology provider, is also joining Qualcomm, which includes the absorption of Wikitude’s AR userbase of 150K+ developers.

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  • So what happened to “Nobody likes tethering VR headsets to phones” that was the general statement used when the GearVR failed a few years back? Im afraid the same thing will happen to these new headsets, no ones going to use them if it steals their phone away.

    • It’s all about trade-offs and use cases. Maybe it ends up making more sense for AR, where it could extend your phone’s capabilities rather than high jack it for an entirely different experience.

      • MosBen

        Plus, if you’re working in AR and have a tethered phone in your pocket you can probably still just either take the call and continue in AR or quickly and easily pull the AR glasses off and take the call normally.

        Plus, part of the problem with GearVR was that after some initial wow factor the 3DOF experience simply wasn’t super compelling.

    • dk

      the leanovo a3 based on this platform is mainly meant to be used for additional monitors on a laptop ….using it with a phone is additional flexibility
      …also it uses the xr1 so maybe there could be a version of it like the vive flow where it can run on a battery

    • There’s a big difference between tethering a lightweight pair of glasses to the phone that’s (probably) already in your pocket compared to strapping a full-size smartphone (and all the heat it generates) to your face.

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      • Christian Schildwaechter

        There is a big difference, but according to Carmack it was less about heat and more about hassle. People actually use their phones all day, so a worst case scenario is having to take it out of the protective cover, inserting into GearVR, starting a game, getting a message or call, removing the phone, answering, and putting it back. And this every few minutes, while usually it takes a second or to to glance at your screen and check new messages.

        So the tethering was never the problem by itself. It was that the way it was tethered blocked the phone completely. If you can continue to use the phone as usual while it is connected to Spaces AR glasses, either wired or wireless, most people wouldn’t have a big problem.

        In many ways the same problem applies to using the Quest, which is why Carmack was trying to push Meta into allowing regular Android apps on Quest, so people don’t have to choose between either being in XR or staying highly connected.

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  • Vince Zhang

    It’s all about the form factor. Most people don’t mind big chunky headphones tethered to their mobiles if they look good. Hope it doesn’t need an external power pack.

  • Ad

    To me this looks like they’re panicking about facebook probably making their own silicon.

  • oomph2

    I have been saying this for years that
    the pocket computing device should process the data for the lightweight headset & the headset should look like glasses.