The market for virtual and augmented reality devices is attracting more and more companies. Not only Apple is working on a revolutionary AR/VR headset that wants to compete with Meta Oculus, HTC Vive and others. Google recently ramped up activity on an augmented reality headset, codenamed Project Iris. The search giant plans to release the device in 2024.
Like future Meta and Apple devices, Google’s headset uses outward-facing cameras to capture an image of the real world, which is then mixed with computer graphics to create a more immersive mixed reality experience than current devices. An early prototype Google headset resembles ski goggles and doesn’t need to be connected to other devices to work.
Rumor has it that Google’s headset is still in the early stages of development and doesn’t have a clearly defined go-to-market strategy. The hardware platform used is the proprietary Tensor chipset, which is also the basis for the flagship Pixel 6 smartphones. The current version of the headset runs on Android, although Google is reportedly developing a special operating system for mixed reality devices. Project Iris won’t have very high performance, so Google plans to use its data center to render some of the graphics remotely. The Pixel team is reportedly working on the headset, but it’s unclear if the headset will eventually be released under that brand.
Project Iris marks Google’s return to the hardware category, where the company has a long history. At one time, in 2012, the debut of Google Glass made a lot of noise, but the device was ahead of its time and didn’t enjoy commercial success. Google has focused on software products like Lens and augmented reality elements in Maps.
Project Iris is a closely guarded secret within Google. Work on the product is carried out in a building, which can only be entered with identification and only after signing a non-disclosure agreement. The team working on the device consists of about 300 people, and Google plans to hire several hundred more. Project Iris’ executive director is Clay Bavor, who reports directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. He is also leading the development of Project Starline, an ultra-high definition video chat booth that was unveiled last year. Bavor has led Google’s AR and VR projects alongside Starline and Iris for many years and currently leads Google’s product incubator Area 120.
People who have tried Starline call the device a technical marvel. It imitates the interlocutor incredibly realistically in 3D. Google is reportedly aiming to release Starline alongside Iris in 2024. Google is currently working on a pilot testing program for Fortune 500 companies’ Starline.
Google’s interest in AR dates back to Glass and the company’s early investment in Magic Leap. In 2020, the company acquired smart glasses startup North, which is working to bring augmented reality technology into ordinary-looking glasses. Most of the North team still works at Google.
Last October, Pichai said AR would be a key investment area for Google. The company certainly has the means to thrive in this industry, but it’s not yet clear if it will invest in virtual reality technology as aggressively as Meta, which already spends $10 billion a year on AR and VR research and development spends.