Google is working on a mixed reality headset codenamed ‘Project Iris’ with the aim to ship in 2024, The Verge’s Alex Heath reports.
According to Heath’s report. Iris uses “outward-facing cameras to blend computer graphics with a video feed of the real world, creating a more immersive, mixed reality experience than existing AR glasses from the likes of Snap and Magic Leap”. This is commonly called passthrough and is “more immersive” because opaque display systems, today mostly used for VR, offer a much wider field of view than the transparent waveguide optics needed for glasses.
The Quest 2 VR headset already offers a passthrough mode for basic mixed reality apps, but the view is low resolution grayscale and the headset is relatively bulky. Meta’s Project Cambria and the Kickstarter project LYNX R1 are scheduled to launch this year with high quality color passthrough in a more compact form factor. Heath’s report claims early Project Iris prototypes “resemble a pair of ski goggles”.
Project Iris will reportedly use a custom Google processor – the company recently launched its first in-house mobile chipset in the Pixel 6 phone. Iris is said to run a custom version of Android, but uniquely, Google apparently plans to stream “some graphics” from its data centers – potentially using the existing Stadia GPU infrastructure. If Iris also supports VR, this could enable much higher fidelity graphics than mobile chips but without the need for a PC.
The report says the project falls under Clay Bavor who directly reports to Alphabet’s CEO Sundar Pichai. A team of 300 people are apparently working on Iris in a building that requires a special keycard and an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), including the former lead engineer of Google Assistant, the former CTO of light-field camera startup Lytro, and the experienced operating system developer Mark Lucovsky who helped build the core of Windows in the ’90s. Lucovsky left Meta in December, where he had been working on a new operating system for AR & VR.
Google has however gained a reputation for starting and quickly abandoning new platforms and products. With the first Pixel phone in 2016 it launched the mobile VR platform Daydream, and in 2018 even partnered with Lenovo to launch the first positionally tracked standalone headset outside China. But by 2019 Daydream was no longer supported in new Pixel phones and the company didn’t end up shipping the tracked controllers it sent to developers.
Bloomberg and supply chain sources report Apple plans to launch its own mixed reality headset next year. Global supply chain disruptions continue to alter plans across the technology industry, though, and headset makers also face the challenge of designing a new class of heat-dissipating computers and sourcing new components for those designs in significant quantities. In other words, delivery targets for upcoming hardware systems like “Iris” may remain more hopeful goals than committed delivery schedules. But three years on from the launch of Oculus Quest, it sounds like the other tech giants are no longer content to leave the market to Mark Zuckerberg.