nreal: The Stylish Face of Mixed Reality

When virtual reality glasses first appeared on the scene, the wonder and excitement they stirred were largely caused by the technology they housed. These cutting-edge devices promised a massive shift in gaming culture, education, job training, and more — and, as if to metaphorically represent the size of the promise they held, these early glasses were…well, big. And when it comes to the brands pioneering the world of wearable VR, those glasses are still on the hefty side today. Oculus, for instance, has released a series of glasses so clunky that the company has christened them, more appropriately, ‘headsets.’ White and minimalist? If you’re comparing their silhouettes to those of, say, diving goggles, certainly. Samsung’s Gear VR is every bit as bulky. The emphasis of these products has always been on the tech; the design has thus far felt like a placeholder until the technology improves enough to allow for more freedom on the aesthetic side of things.

When it comes to the world of mixed reality, however, the very nature of the technology’s integration with an environment allows for a different approach entirely. And while early iterations left a little to be desired — the Microsoft Hololens, for instance, underwhelmed many hopefuls with subpar image quality and, again, size — one company has been actively developing the world’s very first ready-to-wear mixed reality device. And readers, this is no headset or pair of futuristic goggles. These are glasses — and handsome ones at that.

Founded by Chi Xu and Bing Xiao in early 2017, nreal is a Chinese company seeking to make MR glasses that are as lightweight and comfortable as they are technologically advanced. These sleek wearables sport a colourful retro vibe, harkening back to the ’80s and ’90s while at the same time integrating an industry-leading wide-screen vivid display that launches them straight into the future.

The nreal light, the company’s flagship product, made a splash earlier this year at CES 2019. It was awarded the highly competitive Wareable’s CES 2019 Top Picks prize. The glasses offer a broadviewing angle of 52 degrees and use Simultaneous Location and Mapping (SLAM) and environment-understanding AI algorithms to create a truly immersive experience. And when company founders called the product “light”, they meant it; sparking a great deal of interest at CES was the fact that the nreal light weighs about as much as a pair of ordinary prescription glasses at a mere 85 grams.

The glasses come with both a sleek computing unit and compact controller. The computing unit weighs 170g and features a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 hardware platform. The operating system is currently restricted to Android. (And our truly tech savvy readers may be interested to know that the development platform is SDK available on Unity and Unreal.)

The controller weighs in at a very light 23g and features 3D0F tracking. Its touchpad is pressure and touch sensitive.

But let’s take a look at the brass tacks of those spectacle’s, er, specs. Connectivity is USB-C compatible. As for optics, on top of the 52-degree field of view, these lenses feature Combined Lightguide. Like the controller, they operate via 6D0F tracking and can detect planes, surfaces, and objects, recognizing these thanks to those aforementioned SLAM-based algorithms.

The company actively seeks feedback via social media to improve in the development and design stage. For instance, nreal has sought public opinion as to what colours their followers would be most pleased to see as options for the nreal light. Want to weigh in on which accessories would most appeal to you? Let them know via Twitter — but be advised, reassures the company, that prescription lenses and nose pads are already “accounted for.”

Curious to keep abreast of this project as it moves away from the prototype stage and into production? Sign up for the company’s mailing list. It’s only a matter of time, we hope, before these glasses are widely available and shaking up our traditional approaches to work and pleasure.


Images via nreal.