October 9, 2017

Why has Intel closed its AR glasses unit?

intel_recon AR glasses

Intel has closed it’s unit that makes AR goggles according to unofficial reports emerging on Sunday night. Intel acquired wearables maker Recon in 2015 for an undisclosed sum at a time when the microprocessor giant saw considerable promise in wearables and the AR market. The Recon brand specialized in augmented reality goggles targeted on sporting and industrial applications.

However, the company has already cut a third of the workforce and now an unofficial disclosure by an anonymous employee has revealed that the unit is to be closed completely, with the loss of a further 100 jobs. The employee – who asked not to be named because the announcement has not yet been made officially – said that the company will fulfil all existing contracts for the goggles.

A spokeswoman for Intel refused to answer questions about the Recon closure rumor, but assured us that the company will continue to develop Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality hardware, as it strives to expand beyond its microprocessor and Solid State Drive area of established expertise.

The decision has come as a surprise to those who expected the launch of Apple’s ARkit and the relaunch of Google Glass to make Intel even more bullish on the future of AR. Although a maker of niche products, the Intel acquisition of Recon was seen as testing of the waters for a bigger expansion into VR and AR.

However, there were some earlier signs that the handwriting was on the wall for Recon, not only because of the cancellation, but also because of the prior cancellation of Intel’s Project Alloy – a Virtual Reality project that Intel launched to much fanfare in 2016. The headset was originally scheduled for release in 2017. But on September 22, it was announced that the project was cancelled.

The VR headset was intended to be a Head Mounted Display with six degrees of freedom that was entirely self-contained. However, early designs were met with the criticism of “clunkiness” and Intel’s plans to develop the unit working with partners fell through due to lack of interest. The lack of interest in turn is due to the fact that those same partners (Acer, Asus and Dell) work with Windows and Microsoft has been working with them on the new Windows Mixed Reality headset.

However, while Intel has effectively withdrawn from the direct development of a consumer product, they continue (according to Kim Pallister, the Director of their VR Center of Excellence) to be involved in the development of components for VR products. This includes high bandwidth WiGig links for VR headsets, Movidius visual processing, Intel RealSense™ depth sensing, Thunderbolt, and Intel Optane™.

Pallister’s statement, however, made clear that untethered VR – whether built into the headset or with a wireless connection to an external box – remains the holy grail of VR development. “What we’ve learned through Project Alloy,” he said, “will inform future efforts.”

Whilst that might sound like putting a brave face on it, we wouldn’t bet against Intel technology appearing inside several new generations of VR products – even if it’s someone else’s name on the box!

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