Will 2021 be the year when AR glasses take off?
Augmented reality (AR) glasses are probably as big a part of our cultural understanding of an imagined future as jetpacks and murderous androids. From Iron Man to Minority Report, the idea of viewing the world through a helpful heads up display (HUD) has firmly taken root in our collective psyche as a milestone on the road to “the future”.
Google Glass, Snap, and a fraught beginning
However, while AR technology has begun to bleed into our daily lives through our smartphones - with everything from to Pokemon Go capturing our collective imaginations - the marriage between an AR HUD and a pair of glasses can best be described (if you’re feeling charitable) as rocky.
After terminating its project after three years of development and a shaky launch plagued by accusations of “creepiness”, Alphabet rehomed its pioneering smart lenses in the commercial sector, where they’ve become an increasingly popular solution in warehousing and manufacturing environments. However, despite from being a total wash, Google has yet to show signs of trying to find a home for its AR goggles outside of the enterprise.
Google isn’t the only company to attempt to market its AR wearables to consumers, only to pivot towards enterprise applications when the reception proved less than warm. AR goggle company Magic Leap raised $2bn in 2016 and, after a that saw it hire science fiction luminaries and bring a ground-up product to market well ahead of the competition, the company has been in a tailspin all summer. Its Magic Leap One headset failed to impress following its 2018 launch and now the company has .
Whether or not the move works for Magic Leap, the enterprise market for AR lenses is booming, with estimates putting global shipments at around 3,000 units this year - a figure that is expected to rise 7. The signs point to us being on the cusp of a massive adoption spike of AR glasses, but consumer interest still seems thoroughly lacklustre on the issue,
There have been a few other spirited attempts to find commercial success with mainstream consumers outside the enterprise over the past few years. Snapchat - as one of the leading drivers of AR applications in social media - to a fairly lukewarm reception. The issue - which seems to have repeated with other launches of AR eyewear since - seems to be high price points and such limited functionality that it’s hard to see the point in paying so much for technology that wasn’t ready yet. As wrote at the time, “They’re merely a stepping stone toward true augmented reality eyewear — a public hardware beta for the Snap Lab R&D team that Apple and Facebook aren’t getting as they tinker in their bunkers.”
Apple and Facebook - Here comes the future?
Which brings us to the AR glasses industry’s big hopes for commercial adoption: Apple and Facebook. If any companies are going to be able to deliver a successful coup for AR glasses, it’s these two Californian tech behemoths.
Facebook has been playing with AR and VR for years, since its in 2014, and is expected to launch a pair of AR frames . Apple’s own AR glasses - while to be launching later this year - look like they’re also going to be dropping in 2021 (or ) and will feature eye gesture controls that will allow wearers to do things like take photos by winking.
According to , “Apple and Foxconn are developing semi-transparent lenses for an AR headset, and the lenses have moved from the prototyping stage , the final step before mass production. At the trial production stage, the design is typically locked down, which suggests the product is in the final stages of development.”
If these AR frames can deliver enough functionality at an acceptable price point, 2021 and 2022 could well be a huge inflection point for AR glasses outside of enterprise and niche markets.
New government strategy to put UK ahead in global innovation
The UK government’s plans to increase private sector investment into elevating the UJ’s position in the global innovation race have been outlined in a new Innovation Strategy developed and launched by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng. The strategy is part of the government’s “long-term vision” to boost private sector investment in R&D across the UK, enabling tech companies such as mobile networks to create new technologies.
While the private sector is important in boosting R&D spending, the government says that the UK “is still committed” to increasing annual public investment in Research and Development with the aim of reaching a record US$30.2bn (£22bn).
What will the Innovation Strategy allow the UK government to do?
By adopting the Innovation Strategy, the government claims it will be able to achieve several other goals. These include:
- Ensuring government procurement is proactive and supportive, providing a route to market for innovative new products and services
- Consulting on how regulation can ensure that the UK is well-placed to extract the best value from innovation
- Commissioning the Regulatory Horizons Council to consider how best to support innovation through regulation, including looking whether there are a set of high-level guiding principles for regulation that may apply broadly to any sector of innovation
- Introducing new High Potential Individual and Scale-up visa routes, and revitalise the Innovator route to attract and retain high-skilled, globally mobile innovative talent
- Undertaking an independent review to assess the landscape of UK organisations undertaking all forms of research, development and innovation
- Reducing complexity for innovative companies by developing an online finance and innovation hub between Innovate UK and the British Business Bank within the next 12 months
- Expanding IP education programme for researchers and launch International IP Services to bolster innovative companies’ and researchers’ ability to confidently collaborate, export and invest overseas
- Publishing of a new action plan on ‘Standards for the Fourth Industrial Revolution’, promoting standards that enable innovation to flourish
- Investing £200mn (US$275mn) through the British Business Bank’s Life Sciences Investment Programme to target the growth-stage funding gap faced by UK life science companies
- Supporting 30,000 senior managers of small and medium-sized businesses through Help to Grow: Management to boost their business’s performance, resilience, and long-term growth
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said in a statement that “the UK can look back on a proud history of changing the world through innovation. From the industrial revolution to the vaccine development of the past year, the impact on our everyday lives is undeniable.
“That spirit of discovery is still alive in this country today, but we have not always turned our genius for innovation into jobs and companies here in Britain.
“The countries that secure leadership in such transformational technologies will lead the world, enjoying unrivalled growth, security and prosperity for decades to come – and it’s our job to ensure the UK keeps pace with the global innovation race”.
The organisation added that through the long-term plan, it aims to “rekindle our country’s flame of innovation and discovery”, and to aid businesses in taking the “vast opportunities” brought about by innovation.
“If we get this right, we can build the foundations for the new industries of tomorrow, and ensure British firms are at the front of the pack to turn world-leading science into new products and services that are successful in international markets”, the organisation concluded.
To implement the strategy, the government plans to work with universities and research organisations with five projects receiving part of £127mn capital injection through the Strength in Places Fund, which is delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).
In addition to the Strength in Places Fund, £25 million of funding for the Connecting Capability Fund will help drive further economic growth through university-business innovation.