Qualcomm and Microsoft develop special chip for AR glasses

Qualcomm and Microsoft develop special chip for AR glasses

Qualcomm and Microsoft aim to scale augmented reality with a special chip for next-gen AR glasses.

Qualcomm has landed a big fish for its expansion into the XR era: Microsoft is set to team up with the US chipmaker to design special processors for future AR glasses. Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon revealed this during his presentation at CES 2022.

After Apple and Google most recently decided against Qualcomm and in favor of their own chips for smartphones, Qualcomm now serves the currently two largest manufacturers in the XR segment with Meta (Quest glasses) and Microsoft (Hololens).

Chip for AR glasses: energy-efficient and lightweight

The “custom Snapdragon chip” announced by Amon at CES is optimized for “energy-efficient and very lightweight next-gen AR glasses.” Both are key factors for eyewear chips: The face computer must not be warm or heavy on the nose.

“We’ve been talking about the possibility of making AR glasses for a larger market for years. This partnership is a step in the direction of scaling augmented reality,” Amon says.

It’s possible, then, that the goal behind the new chip collaboration with Microsoft is to create AR glasses for everyday use, or at least for all offices. Hololens 2 is still aimed purely at the industry.

Amon says the chip is specifically for the Microsoft ecosystem. Whether Microsoft has actually secured chip exclusivity here is not clear from his wording.

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This “extended partnership,” as Amon calls it, isn’t surprising: the Snapdragon 850 chip is already in Hololens 2, and Meta is building Qualcomm’s XR2 chip optimized for XR computing into Quest 2. Microsoft is also reportedly partnering with Samsung on AR glasses.

Microsoft Mesh and Snapdragon Spaces become one

In addition to silicon, the software also plays a role in the expanded partnership between Microsoft and Qualcomm: according to Amon, Snapdragon Spaces will become an integral part of Microsoft Mesh, and both programs will be permanently integrated into the new Snapdragon AR chip.

Snapdragon Spaces is Qualcomm’s AR development platform announced in November. It gives manufacturers and developers access to key AR features such as hand tracking and environment scanning. Snapdragon Spaces is likely to incorporate technology from Wikitude, the long-established Austrian AR development software that Qualcomm bought in September.

Mesh is Microsoft’s mixed reality infrastructure for connecting VR and AR technology with traditional computers. Users can meet in a digital office with VR and AR glasses or via a monitor as avatars. Microsoft’s XR chief Alex Kipman recently said that for a Hololens 3 to be available to all, a transformative leap in technology would be needed regarding heat and form factor.