On November 9th at the beginning of the Augmented World Expo (AWE),Qualcomm announced Snapdragon Spaces, which is a series of AR tools striving to cultivate an “open, cross-device horizontal platform and ecosystem.” The Snapdragon Spaces tools include “environmental and user understanding capabilities that give developers the tools to create headworn AR experiences that can sense and intelligently interact with the user and adapt to their physical indoor spaces.” This specifically includes spatial mapping & meshing, local anchors & persistence, positional tracking, plane detection, image recognition & tracking, object recognition & tracking, occlusion, & scene understanding.
What’s especially interesting to me is that all of this is “based on the Khronos® OpenXR™ specification to enable application portability and is the first headworn AR platform optimized for AR Glasses tethered to smartphones with an OpenXR conformant runtime.” The Snapdragon Spaces platform will enable Qualcomm to start leveraging the additional computational resources of mobile phones in order to enable a distributed compute and rendering capabilities that allows AR to become like an extended spatial display to existing mobile phone apps.
It’s also starting to build out the more software-driven potentials for innovation that comes from specific application developers, who will be empowered to write OpenXR extensions and modules that not only benefits their specific application, but potentially the broader XR ecosystem. This is a really exciting development to see Qualcomm go down this path of cultivating an open ecosystem like this, and it makes a lot of sense why they wanted to become a big sponsor of AWE 2021 with an opening keynote slot with Hugo Swart announcing Snapdragon Spaces (registration required) as well as a couple of sessions by Steve Lukas diving into more specific details of Snapdragon Spaces in the Ramp to the Future of AR session (registration required) as well the more generalized tips for what type of AR applications they’re looking for in order to grow the AR ecosystem here in this session on Designing Your Mobile App for Qualcomm’s Tools (registration required).
They also announced an early access program for XR developers called The Pathfinder Program that’s a new program for Snapdragon Spaces “designed to give qualifying developers early access to platform technology, project funding, co-marketing and promotion, and hardware development kits they need to succeed.” Generally availability for Snapdragon Spaces won’t be until the Spring of 2022.
Going to AWE 2021, it was made really clear to me the impact that Qualcomm has had on the cultivation of the standalone VR and AR HMD market So many of the latest standalone devices use either the XR1, including Snap Spectacles 4, Ray-Ban Stories, Lenovo ThinkReality A3, Vuzix M4000 & M400, or use the the XR2 including Quest 2, Vive Focus 3, Pico Neo 3, & iQIYI QIYU 3, Magic Leap 2, or HoloLens 2.
In fact, since 2016, there’s been over 50 devices that have launched on either the Snapdragon 820 (announced September 1, 2016 at IFA), Snapdragon 835 (announced January 3, 2017 at CES), Snapdragon 845 & VR Dev Kit Reference Design (announced February 21, 2018 at MWC and shown at GDC March 2021 + my previous Voices of VR interview with Qualcomm at GDC 2018 after seeing that reference design), and then their XR-specific XR1 chip announced at AWE May 29, 2018 and then their XR2 chip announced December 5, 2019.
I had a chance to catch up with Qualcomm’s VP & GM of XR Hugo Swart during AWE on November 11th, where I was able to get more context for their new Snapdragon Spaces platform and open ecosystem they’re cultivating, but also to recap the evolution of standalone VR and AR devices since 2016 when the Snapdragon 820 was announced as being the first chip capable of handling the needs of standalone XR devices.
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