I took a selfie of myself high up in a hotel room with the DigiLens Argo AR glasses CES in Las Vegas, and of course I looked ridiculous. Unlike many devices that aim to make future AR glasses look more normal, this pair focuses on being safe and reliable: it’s designed for places like factories, industrial settings, and other workplaces. It doesn’t matter what I look like on the outside. From the inside everything was crystal clear.
The DigiLens team made waveguide lenses for AR headsets, which they use to display the projected virtual objects that appear to be floating above the real world. The company is now making its own glasses, which it expects to launch later this year. The Argo is both a showcase for DigiLens’ new lenses, which the company claims are the best in the business, and a model for making secure workplace headsets. The DigiLens team has helped develop other ambitious AR glasses in the past, including the O.D.G (which I tried years ago) and the Daqri, which aimed to be a workplace competitor Microsoft HoloLens.
According to the team I met, the industry landscape has been overlooked lately: the HoloLens 2 seems to be in a state of pause as Microsoft pivots to smaller glasses while the magic jump 2 requires a tethered side processor that could become tangled on the workspace floor. The Argo is a simple pair of glasses, nothing else, powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 Processor similar to the Quest 2 – so it works without a phone or computer. The goggles feature Wi-Fi 6E and an optional headband with 4G cellular connectivity.
Several companies will compete to make AR glasses a reality over the next few years, with chipmaker Qualcomm promising: wave of smaller hardware between 2023 and 2025. The size and performance of these goggles are still a work in progress, with various component manufacturers all working on improvements. Rather than bet on style, these goggles show what reliable function is possible.
Since these glasses couldn’t fit over my own and had their own prescription inserts that didn’t quite match mine (I didn’t bring contact lenses to Vegas) I had to squint a bit to close the readings on the LCOS LED display detect. But I did appreciate that the actual lens onto which the floating color display was projected was impressively clear. I didn’t see a shimmer and none of the rainbows or smudges I’ve seen on many headsets. It was like looking through clean glasses. The display has a smaller field of view (30 degrees) than the HoloLens 2, but it’s also brighter: it’s made for outdoor viewing.
The lenses are made from Gorilla Glass with a layer printed between the glass to create the waveguides that help project the display. The result was a lens that felt much clearer than I was used to.
As whimsical as the DigiLens glasses look from the outside, they don’t interrupt my field of vision at all. For me, the effect was identical to wearing my own everyday glasses. DigiLens says it’s essential so you can view heads-up displays without feeling like your safety is being compromised.
Argo can display either heads-up instruction or 3D and AR. Like most AR glasses, the viewing area feels limited. It’s good enough to read information or even see photos. The headset is said to be voice controlled and was quick to respond to me when I opened apps.
The headset can use objects like QR codes to launch anchored AR, and I had fun viewing a raised 3D city map sprouting out of a Samsung phone I was holding. This AR feature only worked via a 2D video feed, which I saw in my display as if I was watching a pop-up video of the world around me, but it should be layered into the real world in future updates.
I also tried the integrated 48-megapixel front camera, which sounds like overkill for a headset, but it was added so that pixel binning captures to a more compressed size in low-light conditions results in higher-quality photos to capture detail in environments and capture environments while working in the fields. I took a picture of someone, then digitally zoomed in several times with my voice and was able to get a closer look at a detail.
Trippy was a beta mode that can broadcast what I see to others or bring their video feed into my glasses from another pair of glasses or a phone. I saw a live footage of me wearing the glasses as I walked around.
These glasses are clearly not intended for me or you. But their focus on barrier-free use, even if only for an industrial setting, got me thinking about an unresolved world of AR glasses. And the next time I wear AR glasses, I think of those clear lenses and wonder if everything else I see is good enough.