Great things come in small packages: enabling augmented & virtual reality’s next wave

Close cousins, augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) hold great promise across a wide range of industries and applications: gaming and entertainment, warehousing and logistics, healthcare and medtech, industrial and infrastructure maintenance, retail showcasing, manufacturing, and more. In fact, according to market intelligence provider, IDC’s Worldwide Semiannual Augmented and Virtual Reality Spending Guide, total global spending on AR/VR products and services is expected to soar “from $11.4 billion in 2017 to nearly $215 billion 2021, achieving a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 113.2% along the way”.

But first, AR/VR needs to overcome several technical limitations, including the size and weight of headsets, their limited field of view, their need to be tethered to computers and difficulties in tracking the real world. Challenges concerning electronic subassemblies also impact the overall user experience, for instance, space and weight constraints to help avoid headsets or smart glasses being overly cumbersome.

AR/VR’s potential in healthcare & medtech

According to industry authorities, AR/VR is poised to revolutionise the operating theatre. Surgeons already use AR, particularly in neurosurgery, but the most common method, in which they refer to separate screens as they operate, forcing them to continually look away from the patient and refocus, can be distracting or disruptive in a field where intense focus is literally a life-or-death requirement. As a result, ‘see-through’ AR headsets or smart glasses that enable information and digital content to be overlaid directly in the surgeon’s field of view, much like a pilot’s ‘head-up display’ (HUD), offer many valuable benefits for surgery.

Surgeon using AR via a screen

AR smart glasses delivering hands-free information

But to be more effective and compelling, AR headsets need to become more portable and lightweight. For such devices to become a natural extension of the surgeon’s senses, they must be light, mobile, comfortable and functional – potentially for extended periods of time.

AR efficiencies in warehousing & logistics

Several global logistics companies have run pilots trialing AR technology, with global logistics leader, DHL announcing plans to implement AR smart glasses as standard for order picking in its supply chain warehouses. Because live digital data can be delivered from the company’s computer network direct to the smart glasses, workers have easy access to the information they need, when they need it, via a hands-free method, eliminating the use of handheld scanners and paperwork. In its own trials, DHL has seen a 15 percent increase in productivity and improved accuracy rates.

Industry analysts are optimistic that the use of AR smart glasses will continue to increase over the next few years, boosting the AR/VR market. Developments in technology will continue to fuel this growth – and the size of the devices is a key aspect that calls for improvement. To help encourage the implementation of AR/VR technology in new applications, improvements in the size and style of smart glasses to make them more appealing to users are necessary to overcome workers’ lingering reluctance to adopt these new tools.

Warehouse tools replaced by AR smart glasses: scannert

Warehouse tools replaced by AR
smart glasses: tablet

Addressing space constraints for AR/VR devices

Molex is helping break down some of the barriers in AR/VR technology with space-saving products and capabilities. For example, its Application Specific Electronics Package (ASEP) solution is an innovative electronics packaging technology, developed by Molex engineers, that combines the advantages of printed circuit boards, moulded interconnect devices (MID) and flexible circuit technology into one highly versatile, compact and cost effective solution. Transforming the manufacturing process of electronic subassemblies, ASEP enables engineers to develop AR/VR designs that are smaller in size and lighter in weight, while still delivering high performance and cost effectiveness.

“ASEP integrates electronic functions into a single device that becomes the backbone of an electronics system,” explained Victor Zaderej, Molex Advanced Engineering Development Manager. “It can help elevate AR/VR to the next technological level by offering creative packaging designs that solve challenging size and weight requirements.”

Molex is also developing another revolutionary technology, its miniature hinge connectors. This innovative component could have an impact on applications such as AR smart glasses, by enabling power and data to be transmitted from an electronic subassembly in the arm of the glasses to the lenses.

Additionally, to help meet the size and portability requirements of AR/VR applications, Molex offers custom internal antennas, MID/LDS (laser direct structuring) capabilities (which offer superior flexibility and geometric 3D design freedom), printed flexible circuits and a wide range of microminiature connectors capable of overcoming any size or weight limitation.

Advances in AR/VR technology are resulting in nothing short of a paradigm shift across a range of industries – and innovations in electrical circuity will be paramount to AR/VR’s continued trajectory.

AR smart glasses: ASEP-integrated circuitry and electronic components and miniature hinge connector

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