Intel is no longer moving forward with the Project Alloy self-contained “merged reality” headset. Instead, it will focus its efforts on other AR and VR technologies.
A little more than a year ago, Intel revealed Project Alloy, a VR HMD that featured a complete computer system inside the headset and Intel RealSense cameras to provide inside-out positional tracking as well as hand and finger movement tracking. The initial reveal of Project Alloy was little more than a concept, but Intel seemed to be moving full-steam ahead on the initiative.
In January, at CES, Intel let us try a working “proof of concept” Alloy headset, which gave us a glimpse of what the package had to offer. We experienced hand tracking issues, and we noticed that the system had trouble accurately identifying the size and shape of real-world objects. Intel assured us that a new version was in the pipeline that would improve upon every aspect of the headset we tried.
The version of the Project Alloy headset that Intel intended to distribute to licensees would have included a superior version of the RealSense camera, a Kaby Lake CPU, an undisclosed discrete GPU, and a Movidius Myriad 2 VPU chip. It does appear as though those technologies will go to waste, though. In a statement to Tom's Hardware, an Intel representative said:
“Intel has made the decision to wind down its Project Alloy reference design. However, we will continue to invest in the development of technologies to power next-generation AR/VR experiences. This includes Movidius for visual processing, Intel RealSense depth sensing, and six degrees of freedom (6DoF) solutions, and other enabling technologies including Intel WiGig, Thunderbolt, and Intel Optane. All of these Intel technology solutions are supported by a robust portfolio of software capabilities, and we’re building out a VR support ecosystem, from software design kits to reference designs, to spur innovation that’s enabling rich and immersive content. Project Alloy served as a great proof of concept for Intel and the industry – showing what’s possible in a high-performance, immersive and untethered VR experience. What we’ve learned through Project Alloy will inform future efforts.”
So, what happened? Project Alloy had a lot of potential, and there’s certainly a hunger for untethered VR HMDs. The project may have been a bit too ambitious, though. And the timing doesn’t seem to have worked out well. Qualcomm already offers multiple reference designs for affordable, self-contained VR headsets powered by Snapdragon chips. Intel’s solution, which would have included laptop-class components and heavier-duty tracking technology, would likely have been more expensive than the competing solutions.
Project Alloy also seemed to be a great fit for the Windows MR platform, with its “merged reality” capabilities. However, with five Windows MR headsets about to hit the market from Asus, Acer, HP, Lenovo, and Dell, there aren’t many hardware vendors left that don’t have VR devices in their portfolios. That puts Intel in a tough spot, where it has compelling tech to offer, but potentially few licensees with an incentive to adopt it.
Intel would not say the reason that it moved away from Project Alloy, and representatives declined to answer any furthers on the topic for now. But we have to assume that it's just a symptom of an industry that has too many options for manufactures and too few customers willing to buy up the hardware.