Chipmaker Qualcomm has acquired Clay Air, a Paris-based hand-tracking and gesture recognition startup whose technology is being used by Nreal's AR glasses and similar products. Qualcomm announced the acquisition alongside the launch of its new Spaces developer platform, which aims to help developers build apps and experiences for Qualcomm-powered AR glasses.
The launch of Spaces follows Qualcomm's acquisition of AR developer toolmaker Wikitude, which closed in September. The new AR developer kit is at launch focused on tethered AR glasses that rely on high-end Android phones with Qualcomm processors for compute, with Qualcomm looking to distribute the platform itself through Android app stores.
Some of the features supported by Spaces include object recognition and tracking, scene recognition and spatial mapping. Early-access Spaces developers include Tripp, Scope AR and Felix & Paul Studios. The platform is scheduled to open up to all developers in spring 2022.
Qualcomm already has a strong foothold in the AR and VR space; most standalone AR and VR headsets, including Meta's popular Quest 2, are based on the company's Snapdragon processors. However, as the industry matures and gears up to produce mainstream AR consumer glasses, companies like Apple and Meta are looking to build their own custom chips for their own respective devices.
"We see that we need to go beyond hardware," acknowledged Qualcomm VP & GM of XR Hugo Swart in a call with reporters last week. However, Swart didn't want to characterize the launch of Spaces as a move to compete with some of the bigger hardware vendors in the space, which all have their own developer tools and frameworks as well. "We see it as complementary," he said, arguing that there were plenty of other companies with fewer resources looking to launch their own AR headgear as well.
Swart mentioned carriers as one such example; Spaces is being launched in partnership with T-Mobile and NTT Docomo, but he said that there were also a number of Chinese carriers looking to sell AR glasses as phone accessories without having to build AR developer frameworks from scratch. "They don't want developers to be reinventing the wheel every time," Swart said.