Google Quietly Building an AR Headset To Be Released in 2024
Google is quietly developing its own augmented reality headset which has been codenamed Project Iris. The new Google AR headset could take on the Meta and Apple’s upcoming AR/mixed reality headsets. The headset will reportedly ship in 2024.
All the tech giants, from Meta to Microsoft and even Magic Leap are building a next-generation virtual reality and even augmented reality hardware. Apple is onto something, Meta is also developing a next-gen VR headset and Microsoft has the HoloLens. The eerily quieter front has been Google but it was always expected that Google would give AR hardware another shot after the flop of its Google Glass a few years ago.
According to a report from The Verge, Google is building a new AR headset and is targeting a 2024 shipping date for the AR device.
The report, which cites people familiar with the project, says Google has been ramping up its AR development efforts in an initiative codenamed Project Iris. Like Apple’s and Meta’s AR headset, Google’s AR headset will also rely on outward-facing cameras for blending the computer graphics with the video feed from the real world for a more immersive, mixed reality experience than is currently possible with Magic Leap or Snap.
Early prototypes of the Google headset are being worked on at a San Francisco Bay Area facility and they look like a pair of ski goggles. The device doesn’t need a tethered connection to an external power source.
The Google headset is reportedly still in the nascent stages of development and doesn’t have a clear-cut go-to-market strategy at the moment. As a result, the 2024 shipping date isn’t ironclad and could be aspirational.
The headset uses a custom Google processor just like the new Google Pixel smartphone. It also runs on Android. However, according to recent job listings, there is also a unique operating system that is in the works.
Cognizant of power constraints, Google is aiming to leverage its data centers in remotely rendering some of the graphics and beaming them into the virtual reality headset through an internet connection. The Verge also reports that the Pixel team is also engaged in some of the hardware pieces in the VR headset although it isn’t clear whether Google’s AR headset will eventually be Pixel-branded.
It is unlikely the Google Glass name will be used for this AR headset considering its spectacular flop and discontinuation. Besides, technically, Google Glass is still in existence as an enterprise product.
With Project Iris, Google is returning to the hardware category, a market segment where it has had a rough ride and mixed results with its disparate products. Google’s ill-fated Google Glass debuted in 2012. The company subsequently made considerable efforts to sell the VR headsets but these came to naught and it all came to an end in 2019 with the discontinuation of the product.
Since then, Google has maintained an eerie silence on its hardware aspirations as other tech players in the space launched one immersive product after another. The company instead redirected its efforts to software features such as Lens, AR directions using Google Maps as well as its visual search engine. Over the same period, Meta ramped up its AR and VR investment efforts by recruiting thousands of new staff and rebranding itself to Meta, a move that has brought the metaverse to the fore. This year, we are also expecting an entirely new player in the immersive space -Apple- to launch its mixed reality headset although recent reports have suggested that the Apple launch could be pushed into 2023.
For the moment, Project Iris is a carefully guarded secret, shielded inside a building that needs special keycard access along with non-disclosure agreements. It consists of a core team of approximately 300 people who are currently working on the headset and plans are underway to bring in hundreds more.
The project is being overseen by Clay Bavor, a Google executive who also leads Project Starline and reports directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Project Starline is a futuristic, ultra-high-resolution 3D video conferencing chat booth that Google demoed last year and is also expected to be released in 2024.
If Project Starline is anything to go by, we expect Project Iris to also be a technical wonder. Early testers have described Project Starline as a highly impressive tech demo.
Starline is said to realistically recreate the person you are chatting with in 3D. Google did an eye-tracking test with its employees and discovered that users were 15% more likely to focus on who they were chatting with when using Starline than when they were using a traditional video call. They also found that memory recall was 30% better with Project Starline as users were able to remember more of the details of the conversations.
Google plans to ship Project Starline in 2024 alongside Project Iris. Recently, the tech giant also recruited Magic Leap’s CTO Paul Greco. An upcoming pilot Project Starline will entail using the technology to facilitate remote meetings and will be done with a number of Fortune 500 companies.
Google is also planning to deploy Project Starline internally in its post-pandemic hybrid work strategy. One of the main focus areas of Starline is reducing the cost of each unit from tens of thousands of dollars. However, it is also possible Google might not meet the shipping target year of 2024 for both Project Iris and Starline.
Clay Bavo has been steering Google’s VR and AR efforts right from Google’s initial efforts with Daydream and Google Cardboard. He assumed the position VP of Labs last November under which Project Iris and Starline fall as well as a new blockchain division and a Google in-house product incubator known as Area 120.
Google has been interested in Augmented Reality right from the days of Google Glass. The tech giant was one of the early investors in Magic Leap. In 2020, Google acquired the smart glasses startup North which specializes in fitting augmented reality technology into normal-looking sunglasses. Most of North’s employees are still at Google. There have also been recent Google job postings that are related to waveguides, a thin display technology that lends itself more easily to AR glasses as opposed to an immersive device like Google’s just revealed Project Iris which suggests that Google may also have its gaze on another device.
Google boss Pichai has in the past stated that Augmented Reality will be a “major area of investment” for the company. Google, like Meta, has the wherewithal to pull off a major hardware development project. It has the cash, top talent, a robust Android software ecosystem as well as some innovative products for AR devices such as Google Lens.
However, it isn’t clear whether Google will go all-in like Meta with its immersive hardware development plans. Meta is currently committing $10 billion per year in AR and VR development.