Facebook filed a patent application for a case which acts as a wireless computer and charger for a VR headset. The case would be included with the headset.
Such a design embodied in a product would be used similar to Apple’s AirPods. When not in use, the headset would be slotted into the case where it would charge inductively. The case is described as having a USB Type-C port which would be connected to a wall charger. It’s also described as having LEDs on it to show the charging progress of the headset and case itself.
When the headset is taken out, the case would act as the wireless computer, rendering the virtual world and running the actual VR software. The case could also contain the storage where apps and games would be saved.
The current Oculus Quest has the processing hardware inside the headset itself, with a battery large enough to power it. This is a cheap and reliable design but adds a lot of weight and bulk in the worst possible location. For VR headsets to become comfortable to wear for extended periods, headset manufacturers will need to figure out a way to separate the display system from the computing. The head-worn unit shown in this patent is noticeably more compact than the Quest, and also smaller than the generic VR headset designs Facebook uses in its other patents.
Of course, current low latency wireless VR solutions require bulky wall mounted transmitters and an antenna on the top of the user’s head. However, the patent mentions one embodiment in which the case tracks the headset or the headset tracks the case. If used alongside Facebook’s positional tracking assisted beam forming technique (the company recently won a patent for this) it might allow for a much more compact wireless transmitter to be built into the case.
Several AR headsets such as Magic Leap One use a wired compute pack attached to the user’s hip. But this likely wouldn’t be suitable for high intensity VR and could be seen by many as a downgrade to the current fully wireless standalone headsets. “The problem is when you do it, cause we’ve tried it, you have a wire,” Facebook’s VP of Special Gaming Strategies told us at E3 this year. “And you don’t ever forget that wire.”
With the HoloLens 2 AR headset, Microsoft took the approach of putting the compute on the back of the head. This, however, could harm the ability to use a headset seated or in bed, such as watching a TV show with a friend in BigScreen.
The present Oculus Quest doesn’t come with even a simple protective case, but Facebook sells an official accessory for $40. Given the fragility of current VR headsets and controllers, my Quest only leaves this case when in use already. Leveraging the case as a computer and charger to make a more compact headset would seem to be a no-brainer.
As always, it is important to note that patents only rarely lead to real products. Companies like Facebook explore many product and technology approaches, but ship only a small fraction of these ideas. And even if Facebook does intend to built a product around this approach, this likely wouldn’t happen until several years in the future.