DigiLens has announced a compelling new product for the AR market with its lightweight, industrial-grade ARGO headset—one that I believe fills an important gap for low-profile, standalone AR glasses.
Many people will be more familiar with DigiLens as a top provider of optical waveguides for AR glasses. The company is on the third generation of its Crystal30 waveguides and first-generation of its Crystal50 waveguides, which have 30- and 50-degree fields of view, respectively.
The company has met with plenty of success with its existing products. Last year, DigiLens closed a $50 million Series D Rround of funding. Investors in that round included Corning, Samsung, Dolby Family Ventures, and other notable venture arms. DigiLens also counts notable XR companies such as Sony, Panasonic, Niantic and Continental among its early-stage investors.
The DigiLens team is stocked with experts from across the XR landscape who have seen many different stages of the industry and know what does and doesn’t work. DigiLens CEO Chris Pickett comes from a rich background in photonics and IP licensing. Marketing Vice President Brian Hamilton was a cofounder of the successful enterprise-assisted reality company RealWear, while Vice President and GM of product Nima Shams was an executive at XR pioneer ODG.
The ARGO headset is a complete mobile enterprise solution with an integrated Snapdragon XR2 chipset—and, as you would expect, the latest waveguide and projection technology from DigiLens. The Argo serves as a showpiece for DigiLens’ new 30-degree field-of-view waveguides, which boast 85% see-through and over 2,500 nits to the user’s eye using LCOS and an LED light engine with an HD display.
I recently had a chance to wear the ARGO and interact with others wearing it, and the 85% see-through number is no joke; it is nearly impossible to see any kind of light in front of a user’s eyes like you’d typically see on most AR glasses. I also noticed barely any rainbowing from light sources, which is a vast improvement over other standalone AR headsets like the Hololens 2 from Microsoft, which has gotten a little long in the tooth since its introduction almost four years ago. The ARGO also has a detachable frame, which is designed for upgrading, easy servicing and customization across different uses.
Like many of its competitors, the ARGO features 6-DoF (degrees of freedom) tracking, which is achieved via two wide-angle cameras and one high-resolution 48MP RGB camera. The 48MP high-res camera has autofocus, OIS and EIS, as well as pixel binning for excellent low-light performance—all of which make it great for taking pictures and streaming video. The ARGO also features five beam-forming microphones for highly accurate audio, as well as multiple speakers for spatial audio.
The ARGO is also a connectivity powerhouse. It supports GNSS location services, including GPS, Glonass, Beidou and Galileo. The ARGO also supports Wi-Fi 6E MIMO and 4G LTE via a smart head-strap (available in the future), with 5G also an option. The headset uses both USB-C 3.1 for data and power, but it also has a 6 watt-hour battery or hot-swappable batteries for longer sessions aiming for around two hours per battery on typical usage. DigiLens claims that the ARGO is already industrial- and military-grade with IP65 certification and compliant with MIL-STD-810H and ANSI Z87.1 eye safety specs. For good measure, it also has an optional aforementioned head strap and face mask. The diverse connectivity, power and ruggedness options mean that ARGO is very flexible for industrial uses, indoors and out.
Regarding software, the ARGO runs DigiLens’ AOSP Android 12 operating system—dubbed DigiOS—which is compatible with OpenXR, WebXR and soon to be with Snapdragon Spaces. DigiLens ARGO also has an always-on voice SDK for support across multiple languages; this is designed to help enable a hands-free and body position-independent experience employing both voice and gaze recognition. DigiLens has also built in a glove- and weather-compatible click-and-scroll wheel for scenarios where using voice and gaze might not make sense. Because the ARGO operates hands-free, there is also hand tracking as well as a gesture UI, which one would expect to be compatible with Snapdragon Spaces and OpenXR.
DigiLens will enable its APIs for Android so that developers can build custom applications, and the OS will update over-the-air for both software builds and security updates. DigiLens packs all of this into a lightweight headset with a target launch weight of less than 185 grams, which is considerably lighter than most competitors, making it much more attractive for all-day use. DigiLens says the ARGO is already shipping to its early access Visualize Program customers but will be in full production by the end of the quarter. Pricing is less than Hololens and Magic Leap and will be paired with solutions from the channel and ISVs which bundle software and services with the headset, which is why pricing will vary.
The enterprise AR market
The AR market was initially positioned as a consumer play, with companies like Magic Leap and Google promising the universe and failing to deliver it. Those failures caused a pivot to the enterprise space early on for the industry, with Google making the pivot much earlier than Magic Leap. Indeed, Magic Leap’s pivot towards industrial and enterprise applications came as too little too late for the company, and it is still struggling to convince companies that it is a viable partner to work with long-term. Meanwhile, Microsoft’s AR play with Hololens was always enterprise-focused, but it suffered numerous setbacks and overall stagnation that also undermined its progress. The company has split the Hololens division in half, and it hasn’t refreshed the Hololens 2 in almost four years, leaving it with an outdated design.
With that background in mind, we can see that DigiLens is not launching the ARGO into a vacuum; plenty of companies are already playing in this space. Besides Magic Leap and Microsoft, Newcomer Lynx-R1 could be a potential competitor in the space, especially as it starts to ship its earliest Kickstarter headsets (including one for yours truly), but I believe that the Lynx-R1 may still be too large for many industrial AR applications where peripheral vision is essential for safety.
Apple’s upcoming headset may also be a competitor, but it still feels like it will still be geared towards consumers, even though the price is expected to be high. Thirdeye also offers Thirdeye X2 MR glasses, which feature a considerably less powerful Snapdragon XR1 chip and a 1280 x 720 resolution.
In this context, DigiLens is positioning the ARGO as an enterprise and industrial-lite worker device, which means many front-line workers might need an additional light lift from AR. There are many different verticals that DigiLens is claiming to go after, most of whom fall within the usual suspects of enterprise AR applications: construction, law enforcement and other first responders, education, logistics, entertainment, manufacturing, food and beverage, healthcare, telecom, defense, and transportation.
I believe DigiLens is launching the ARGO at an interesting moment in the AR market, when the industry has split into two camps. One camp is made up of companies doing their own thing and launching AR products whenever they are ready to ship, albeit preferably before Apple’s imminent entry into the market; the other camp includes companies hoping to respond to whatever Apple does with its first AR/MR headset. I also think it’s important to understand that the DigiLens ARGO likely will not compete with Apple’s headset, given that most people expect Apple to ship a prosumer-grade headset for entertainment, gaming and some light productivity. I would be more comfortable comparing Meta’s Quest Pro and HTC’s XR Elite headsets to Apple’s upcoming headset, but I am sure some people will still try to make the comparison with the ARGO.
I believe that DigiLens has a compelling product on its hands with the ARGO. It almost serves as a teaser to its competitors and potential customers that if they really like the ARGO’s waveguides or light engines, then DigiLens will happily sell either solution to them. In the meantime, the company is clearly trying to fill a gap within the industry for lightweight and low-profile standalone AR glasses; this will make it all the more interesting to see what other solutions emerge in the next year.