With a banner 2019 behind us, I thought it would be a great time to take a deeper dive into a critical component of every single augmented reality implementation: the devices that bring AR to life. Hardware delivers what AR promises: real-time overlays, contextual data, assembly instructions, live two-way communications, and more. If AR is like having superpowers for the enterprise, displays and wearables are how you summon them.

Now that 2020 is well underway, let’s look at the state of things in augmented reality devices.

CES 2020: augmented reality wearables – hope or hype?

Like clockwork, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) swooped into Las Vegas, dazzling tech bloggers, cable news, and business press with a broad range of tech gear. Let’s be clear: this is first and foremost an event showcasing consumer tech – far heavier on products for the household than the enterprise. But there’s no question that the consumer market for VR and AR can drive feature innovation in augmented reality devices and pioneer new AR-enhanced experiences. 

Were there any CES 2020 news or trends worth keeping an eye on for enterprise AR? Here are my top takeaways:

  • Consumer AR wearables are gaining traction. It’s worth noting that a VentureBeat writer called this year’s CES “easily the best VR and AR event I’ve attended,” predicting 2020 will be a breakthrough year for consumer AR. 
  • No heavy-hitter device manufacturer went big on AR. Samsung maybe hinted at AR smartglasses. Panasonic showed a prototype that maybe will head to the enterprise market someday. But I wouldn’t read too much into this absence: these days, major hardware players opt for their own events over the noise of CES.
  • A number of niche players demoed lightweight wearables, which might herald a similar evolution to the business market. (Read on for some thoughts.)
  • One vendor announced advances in higher-definition visuals through improved, mounted projectors, as well as a design tweaked to be fully transparent.

2020’s best-in-class augmented reality wearable devices

I’m grateful that I get to meet with executives from a broad range of industries and showcase how an AR platform can help transform their business. And while these businesses are vastly different in markets, geography, and customer segments, their leaders always ask me the same question: what’s the best augmented reality wearable device out there today?  Today, I can say, without hesitation: Microsoft HoloLens 2. 

This wasn’t always so easy. Like AR itself, wearables have rapidly evolved in recent years. And of course there are many good options that bring AR into enterprise workflows. But I see two key advantages unique to the Hololens 2: First, the overall user experience is stellar, from comfort to field-of-view. It’s amazing to see a customer try out a Hololens 2 — even someone new to AR. Onboarding is seamless: gesturing, eye tracking, and controls are intuitive, sometimes even automatic. Hololens 2 shrinks the AR learning curve, and it’s a shorter distance from “how does this thing work?” to “what can AR do for my business?” especially compared to the clunky interface of the HoloLens 1.

The second advantage is what Microsoft uniquely can wrap around the Hololens 2: an entire ecosystem for AR, from developer engagement, great developer tools, and built-in enterprise-grade features like Mobile Device Management that help to delive solutions aimed at the enterprise. Smaller players are absolutely vital, and will continue to innovate, but in 2020, it’s safe to expect some very compelling use cases as more enterprises try out and implement the Hololens 2 for AR use cases. 

What’s next for augmented reality wearable devices

2020 promises some big steps forward for AR. But longer-term, I see some opportunities for advances in wearables to further drive adoption of enterprise AR. Just as we continue to evolve what’s possible with an AR knowledge platform, hardware manufacturers can find ways to evolve these essentials:

  • Field-of-view. At least one hardware provider with enterprise-market aspirations has a wearable that obscures a user’s peripheral vision — a non-starter in any potentially risk-prone environment. Further expanding the field of view beyond what today’s choices offer ensures AR visuals don’t obscure the environment that technicians need to see. 
  • Ruggedness. Our customers are using AR in environments like factory floors and aerospace assembly rooms. Augmented reality wearable devices should meet industrial safety standards, be able to withstand impact and other factor.
  • Lighten up. A holy-grail AR wearable would be ultra-lightweight, not dissimilar from some of those consumer-oriented models shown at CES. In the near-term, this means offloading processing power to a companion device like a smartphone. This is where major computation could happen: visual data processed, graphics drawn, and blazing-fast, two-way network connectivity. All of this requires problem-solving around battery draw, heat, and critically, no-lag data transfer to the display. 
  • Let’s go outdoors. Augmented reality wearable devices like the HoloLens rely on infrared lasers to scan and map the real world around you. There are limitations outdoors, because the sunlight can affect what lasers can map. Overcoming this limitation will unlock vast potential for AR enterprise applications, but a lot of innovation will be required to solve this hurdle.

Learn more about the augmented reality device landscape in 2020 at the upcoming AeroDef Manufacturing event.  Join Scope AR and Lockheed Martin in an educational session to learn “How Augmented Reality is Transforming Lockheed Martin’s Manufacturing Process”.