Earlier this week, Sulon Technologies unveiled the Sulon Q, which it claims is the world's first tether-free all-in-one headset that combines AR, VR and spatial computing in a single device. That means that instead of attaching it to a computer, like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, or relying on a smartphone, like the Gear VR, the Q is a computer in and of itself -- it even has a battery pack attached. Think of it as wearing a computer on your face. On top of that, it also has a multitude of sensors that promise real-time hand-tracking and environment mapping. It all seems a little far-fetched, which could explain why Sulon released a "Magic Beans" video to demo the tech (see below). We also took the opportunity to speak to Sulon CEO Dhan Balachand here at GDC 2016 and tried the (non-working) headset on our heads.
In the aforementioned video, you'll essentially see a recreation of Jack and the Beanstalk, but set in what appears to be an office. Balachand tells me that the Sulon maps the office in real-time, and is able to overlay the beanstalk imagery on top of what is essentially a video passthrough. But as the story progresses, you'll see that the ceiling of the office suddenly opens up and a giant appears. The giant then picks you up and you find yourself dangling above. This is the part where AR essentially transitions and works in concert with VR, says Balachand.
"There's a spatial processing unit inside," he said. "It actually maps the world by itself and is not sensitive to sunlight or any lighting changes [...] That's innate within the system. That's its heart."
To reiterate, the Q is basically a standalone PC. It has an AMD FX-8800 chip processor on board and is overclocked to a boost load of around 3.4 GHz. Other specs include WiFi, Bluetooth, 256GB SSD storage and it even runs Windows 10. "Imagine a floating screen where you'd see a desktop of Windows 10," said Balachand. "You'd be able to move applications around and start creating a virtual play area." You can use your hands, but it will also apparently ship with a keyboard and mouse. There are two USB 3 ports at the bottom, a microHDMi output at the top plus a 3.5mm audio jack.
"Say you have a virtual ball and you use your physical leg to kick it," said Balachand of the Sulon tech. "As you look at the ball, the leg is virtualized and it applies game physics to the ball, giving it curvature and kinematics. It bounces through the environment in real time. There's no pre-mapping. It's a virtualized version of the real world. That's how this is unique."
Sulon had a demo unit for me to try, but unfortunately it was not a working prototype. Still, I could at least have a feel for it -- Balachand says that the unit I tried would be pretty close to the final unit in terms of size and weight. Overall, I thought the fit was nice and snug. There were velcro strips around the top and the sides for flexibility and it didn't seem heavy at all. The battery pack located on the back of the headset is by far the heaviest part of the whole contraption, but even that didn't weigh me down. I asked for specifics on battery life, but Balachand says they're still working out the details on that.
On the whole, I have to say I'm pretty skeptical. I would definitely need to see it in action in order for me to believe that a small computer like this can handle all the processing load necessary to handle AR, VR and hand-tracking. Sulon says they'll be shipping units in late Spring, so we won't have long to wait to see if it's reality or, like Jack and the Beanstalk, just a fairy tale.