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New developments in semiconductor materials and production processes continue to lead to smaller and smaller sensors, processors and devices. However, there are still areas where space constraints hinder technological progress and user adoption.
One of these areas where the magnitude of technology has slowed progress is in augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications. Before we get into the reasons why — and explore a new development that helps solve the challenge — let’s take a quick look at: AR and VR.
AR is a technology that superimposes an image over a representation of the actual user environment. This can be accomplished via a handheld device (such as a smartphone), a user-worn headset or goggles, or a projection (such as heads-up displays common in some vehicles).
Some common uses of AR include providing information about the user’s environment, gaming, and security data. VR, on the other hand, does not take advantage of aspects of the real world, but instead immerses the user in a virtual environment. For this reason, VR usually requires the use of a headset, which completely covers the user’s eyes and blocks out the world around them.
Up to now, adoption of AR and VR — although steadily growing — has been limited. Even with significant investments from organizations such as Meta, virtual reality remains a relatively niche market. But why?
When it comes to wearables, bulky is out of fashion
Much of the slow adoption of this potentially groundbreaking technology is due to its footprint. AR holds particular promise for use in signage, translation, infotainment and even medicine. But these applications require wearing bulky lenses, glasses or other headgear – or, alternatively, holding a smartphone to view the AR environment.
Simply put, nobody wants to wear heavy, inappropriate glasses all the time or see the world through the 6-inch screen of their smart device. In addition, wearing a bulky, heavy device for a long time can be very uncomfortable.
Introducing the Molex quad-row board-to-board connector
For years, the size of connector technology has been one of the biggest challenges for engineers looking to limit the size of their device when designing wearable and embedded systems. Although semiconductors have shrunk, communication standards have largely remained the same, and even with custom cabling, the cable and associated connector was often the limiting factor for system size.
For AR and VR solutions to succeed, the form factor must be small, lightweight and comfortable for the user. At the same time, AR and VR technology requires significant processing power and high-quality displays. To meet this demand, design engineers need a connector that provides robust communications capabilities while minimizing footprint and weight. Molex’s quad-row connector addresses these needs by offering a variety of connectivity options in a package significantly smaller than other solutions on the market.
At the heart of the quad-row connector’s performance improvements is the staggered circuit layout, which offers up to 30% space savings over the conventional connector design. The connector achieves this through its design that positions pins across four rows with a signal contact distance of 0.175mm. This distributed circuit layout shines in applications where space optimization is a top priority, including in smartwatches, smartphones, wearables and – yes – AR and VR devices.
“Molex is constantly driving connectivity innovations to support ever smaller yet more powerful devices,” said Justin Kerr, vice president and general manager of the Micro Solutions Business Unit at Molex, in a recent report. press release about the technique. “With the high-density quad-row board-to-board connectors, our customers can now squeeze more features, sensors and functionality into increasingly tight spaces without compromising device performance. As a result, Molex is setting a new connectivity standard for space optimization.”
With a 0.35mm solder pitch, manufacturers can assemble the connectors using standard surface mount technology processes, meaning if AR and VR systems are gaining popularity, production can be scaled accordingly. Because AR and VR systems are often integrated into moving objects (such as vehicles) or carried, it’s also critical that connectors withstand movement, drops, and other harsh environments.
Fortunately, Molex quad-row connectors are built with internal armor and insert-molded power nail, with reliability and ruggedness in mind. Connectors are also available in a variety of configurations and are currently offered in 32- and 36-pin variants, with 64-pin configurations coming soon. There are even plans to support a 100-pin version of the quad-row connector, positioning this technology for use in some really advanced AR and VR system designs.
Another benefit for design engineers interested in using these new connectors in their AR and VR applications is that the technology has already been put to the test. These quad-row connectors were originally developed in collaboration with engineers from a major smartwatch manufacturer who needed a flexible, robust and compact connector solution for use in its wearable smartwatch devices.
AR and VR are just the beginning
For hundreds of applications, saving space and weight is a major concern. Whether for AR, wearable fitness trackers, gaming devices or automotive applications, engineers are constantly looking for ways to reduce the footprint of their designs while still using powerful and robust connector solutions.
With its small size, rugged design and high pin count, Molex’s now commercially available quad-row connector seems to fit the bill, and you can expect engineers to deploy this solution in AR and VR designs and more.