28-09-2021 | By Sam Brown
Recently, Xiaomi announced the development of their latest wearable tech, Xiaomi Smart Glasses. Why have other smart glasses failed, how does the Xiaomi Smart Glasses work, and why is this the world’s first authentic smart glasses?
The concept of smart glasses is not old, and they have been in development for many decades. The first product that could be argued as the first practical device was Google Glass which provided users with a pair of glasses with an integrated display and functionality. Google Glass was able to capture video and photographs, give the users a HUD superimposed in front of them, and be used as a hands-free communication device.
While the device was functional, it never took off like smartphones (or any popular tech product, for that matter) for several reasons. Arguably, the most significant reason for the failure of Google Glass was that the device was awkward to wear and unstylish. The physically sizeable protruding lens reflector and compute module made it unattractive and noticeable. Instead of being a pair of standard glasses, it was something akin to 80s cyber tech.
Another reason for the failure was that the device’s intrusion into vision made it a safety concern for those operating vehicles. While the device does allow the user to see through the HUD, its large size and restrictive display reduce peripheral vision. This makes using the device particularly dangerous when navigating, whether in a vehicle or in everyday life.
Google Glass is not the only attempt to produce smart glasses; EyeTap was another attempt to produce smart glasses, which failed to become a commercial success. Other wearable technologies, such as smartwatches, have faced similar obstacles, which almost always involve aesthetics and design challenges.
Recently, Xiaomi announced the development of its latest product, the Xiaomi Smart Glasses, which aims to mainstream smart glasses technology. Unlike its predecessors, Xiaomi Smart Glasses look like a perfectly normal pair of glasses with no enlarged frames, additional hardware stuck to the side, or only a single lens.
Projecting a HUD in front of the user is done using a MicroLED display that measures just 2.4mm x 2.02mm and uses pixels that are 4um in size. The image produced by this display is projected onto the lens specially designed to reflect it towards the user’s eye. To keep the display bright, the MicroLED display is monochromatic (with a green tint), which provides a peak brightness of 2 million nits.
While other smart glass devices have reflected their display into the user’s eye using the lens as a mirror, the Xiaomi Smart Glasses does this very differently. Instead, the lens itself integrates optical waveguides that channel light from the display to the user without the need for a mirror or reflector. The result is that no structures are blocking the user’s peripheral vision, creating a pair of glasses that look perfectly normal.
The Xiaomi Smart Glasses also integrate a 5MP camera into the frame for taking photos and videos, and the device acts as a standalone smart device. This means there is no need for an additional smart device to process information allowing the Xiaomi Smart Glasses to potentially replace smartphones. Furthermore, the Xiaomi Smart Glasses integrate a quad-core ARM processor, battery, touchpad, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Unlike its predecessors, the Xiaomi Smart Glasses is the first example of Smart Glass technology that not only integrates smart capabilities into a wearable device but does so without interfering with the user.
All previous smart glass technologies utilize large reflectors and semi-transparent glass to enable their display technology, but Xiaomi does away with this thanks to optical waveguides. Furthermore, the use of MicroLEDs has allowed the display to be discretely mounted inside the frame of the glasses themselves.
While the glasses are still to be released to the public, they will undoubtedly become extremely popular. They could very well replace many smartphone functions, including navigation, update alerts, and on-the-fly translation.
Of course, aspects of the design need to be considered, including privacy and how Chinese products are well known for giving the Chinese government access to personal data on demand. The camera integration could potentially allow Xiaomi to use the device to recognize people walking past, enabling the ability to track individuals of key interest.