During the craziness that is CES last month, Chinese AR headset manufacturer Shadow Creator announced it had shipped 40,000 of its Action One AR headsets from 400 different schools in China last year. AR is still a relatively nascent technology and many are still shipping only developer edition headsets; volumes are fairly low for most manufacturers. In that context, 40,000 headsets is a pretty big deal. Let’s take a closer look at who Shadow Creator is and what this announcement means for the industry.
Founded in 2014, Shadow Creator is a Shanghai-based manufacturer of AR and VR headsets and one of the XR leaders in China. It is one of the main XR partners of Qualcomm, and recently announced its intent to ship a headset with the semiconductor giant’s latest XR chipset. By its own marketing, Shadow Creator considers itself a leader in mixed reality, which is another marketing term for those who do AR and VR (or passthrough AR using a VR headset). Competing definitions are a problem in this industry—XR is my personal preferred blanket term for this technology.
The JIMO headset is designed to be worn like a pair of glasses with a 55-degree FoV and 1080P resolution. The company announced the JIMO and JIMO Air products in 2019, and though it claimed it would ship the first batch in Q4, the company’s own website still lists the JIMO as “stay tuned.” That said, the JIMO and JIMO Air are interesting products. The JIMO is a standalone headset that includes a built-in Snapdragon 845 chip, and while the Air achieves the same optics, it eschews onboard battery and compute to achieve the lightest weight possible. I suspect that the majority of JIMO headsets that will be shipping to schools will be the standalone version with the built-in Snapdragon 845 and swappable battery. I have personally had a chance to try out the JIMO and was very impressed by the image quality of the AR optics and the graphics that the Snapdragon 845 is supplying. The comfort is pretty good as well and the headset seems quite balanced with the compute on one side and the battery on the other. The great thing about the JIMO is that it has an internal battery as well, to allow for a real time hot swap of batteries without having to power down. I’m excited to see what this headset can do, considering the size and battery swap capabilities.
Potential XR uses for education
Some of the planned uses of these headsets include holographic classrooms that will leverage 5G to break the spatial limitations of physical classrooms. Additionally, the schools envision multi-user online shared lectures, similar to the telepresence and collaboration capabilities that are already emerging in enterprise XR. It appears that 100 of the 400 schools are K-12 schools, which is worth noting because it means these students will be exposed to this technology at an early age. The rest of these schools appear to be universities and colleges, which makes sense given the opportunities they present for learning and creation on a higher level. The company has developed a spatial user interface for the JIMO headset. Now the success of these headsets really comes down Shadow Creator’s ability to work with schools, content creators and developers to create content that makes education more interesting and memorable.
Shadow Creator has also told me that they expect to surpass this 40,000 number this year with the JIMO. The industry is experiencing delays across the board due to the coronavirus, so these plans could be affected—especially if the schools and universities remain closed. However, if schools remain closed for longer there may actually be increased demand for immersive computing like Shadow Creator’s JIMO which enables for long distance learning. That said, hopefully this would just be a temporary setback that also encourages more of a move towards immersive learning I, for one, am excited to see how XR continues to expand education, especially as 5G begins to enable new use cases. We’re only scratching the surface of what immersive computing can do for education. I’ve seen quite a bit on the training side, as well as some interesting pilots from companies like Pearson, for the Microsoft Hololens 2. Judging by the large volume of Shadow Creator’s headsets on order by schools in China, a lot of people are waking up to the potential of this technology in the educational realm. I believe this will only accelerate in the years to come, and I look forward to seeing it unfold.