Wireless Connectivity

5G NR with smart glasses in the commercial market

24 November 2020
Typical visualization of smart glasses usage, which is particularly misleading with monocular smart glass. Source: AGCO-Fendt / CC BY-SA 3.0

Smart glasses have always been a major device mentioned in use cases of 5G and promise to gradually evolve into everyday life. Take a look at this “5G ready” device and its role in the commercial world as detailed below.

(To learn about 5G smart glass consumer applications, read "5G NR smart glasses in the consumer market" on Electronics360.)

Form factor: Monocular vs binocular

Since the introduction of Google Glass, many similar products have emerged that use a single tiny lens mounted on the user’s head, otherwise known as the monocular smart glass. The transparent lens on the device is made for augmented reality (AR) use cases, mainly for remote assistants or visual aids for scenarios that end users can use to free up their hands to work on something else. This form factor is not intended for computer graphics overlaying on actual objects, because the lens itself is too small to cover user's vision. More importantly, the user has to switch focus to this tiny display for reading information on it, blurring everything else out of range. To solve this problem, a larger form factor would offer a much bigger piece of the lens that covers the eyesight of a single eye completely.

Binocular smart glasses, on the other hand, typically cover the user’s eyesight completely, which is more suitable for AR use cases. Users will see through the translucent lens with overlaid computer graphics, and they do not need to shift focus when consuming the AR content. This way, it makes all the visual reality technologies possible, including virtual reality (VR), because the screen is bright enough to make the lens less translucent to the users.

How smart glasses make use of 5G NR

Whichever form factor is used, one entry-level application of 5G smart glasses is remote assistance. Imagine the days when engineers asked for help by sending on-site photos to seniors through instant messenger. Field users with smart glasses will now be able to capture live video via the camera on the smart glasses, streaming for real-time guidance from remote staff. Such smart glasses need 5G for high bandwidth and high definition video, and low latency for the responsiveness of events. Experienced engineers can now support junior colleagues, or customers, from many locations in the same day without physically traveling. It is particularly useful for outdoor sites without a fixed network or Wi-Fi connectivity yet, including construction sites, public facilities and highways, for instance.

Additionally, 5G can help enhance user control interfaces. The majority of smart glasses today will provide some sort of touch control to users for interacting with the menus on the screen, either by sliding the glasses or providing a wired touchpad connected to the glasses. However, none of these can actually free up the user's hands for work. As such, manufacturers are starting to add voice control to their products and 5G can help to improve the accuracy of voice recognition. Yet, not all segments of the industrial environment are suitable for voice control, so some are adding gesture control instead, which means that the glasses are bulky as more sensors are needed but usability is improved. The integration of eyeball tracking technology is also being incorporated to free up user hands, enabling users to select objects in the user interface with their eyes and using their voice to confirm selection.

To slim down the size of all components in the glasses, processing must be done on the cloud, and currently, only 5G NR can enable two-way communication with the responsiveness required.

Use cases

AR training (AR visualized organs on the plastic human figure), or AR aided mechanical operations, might not be the best smart glasses use cases with 5G NR because they are used indoors most of the time. However, real estate agencies, interior designers and construction architects might make good use of the technology because these use cases can benefit from visualizations of ideas and proposals. The camera and light detection and ranging (lidar) sensor on smart glasses could send information on the spot back to the cloud for processing, which requires 5G for uploading, and highly detailed computer graphics are streamed back to the lens in a few milliseconds.

Other professions such as fashion designers, windows dressers and first-responders will all benefit from the same remote input-processing-output model. Such smart glasses might also assist police officers in the future, enabling them to become profilers at a crime scene, for instance.

Conclusion

While the hardware manufacturers are trying hard to shrink the physical size of their products, improving battery life and camera quality, software developers are also improving the user experience and producing more AR content. In between, the cloud providers are working on IoT data integration, while telecom operators are also improving 5G coverage, transmission speed and connection security. It will take several players to improve the use of 5G-enabled smart glasses.

To contact the author of this article, email engineering360editors@globalspec.com


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