After awarding $410 million to the company that supplies it with VCSELs and LiDAR sensors, Apple has made another strategic investment into a company that may contribute to future augmented reality hardware innovations.
On Monday, Apple announced a $45 million award from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to Corning, the company supplying glass for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch products. Corning has previously received a total of $450 million from the fund over two previous awards.
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"Apple and Corning have a long history of working together to accomplish the impossible," said Jeff Williams, chief operating officer at Apple, in a statement. "From the very first iPhone glass, to the revolutionary Ceramic Shield on the iPhone 12 lineup, our collaboration has changed the landscape of smartphone cover design and durability. Ceramic Shield is a prime example of the technologies that are possible when deep innovation meets the power of American manufacturing. We're so proud to work alongside Corning, whose 170-year-old legacy is a testament to the ingenuity of the US workforce."
Corning will apply the funding towards scaling up its manufacturing capacity as well as for research and development for new technology innovations, particularly with regards to product durability.
While Corning's current role involves supplying precision glass for Apple's existing products, the company also has a line of glass wafers designed for augmented reality wearables. In fact, last week, Corning unveiled a 300-millimeter diameter glass wafer for use in AR headsets and smartglasses.
"Corning has traditionally supplied 300-millimeter glass wafers optimized for the semiconductor industry. We are proud to bring the same capabilities to AR customers by offering the largest form factors of high refractive index glasses on the market," said David Velasquez, general manager of Corning Precision Glass Solutions, in a statement. "These advancements in our glass-making capabilities enable customers to create immersive, high-quality AR experiences at price points that will facilitate wider adoption of AR technology."
The existing business relationship with Corning doesn't guarantee its AR glass technology will appear in Apple's forthcoming AR headset, but it certainly puts Corning in a favorable position.
For instance, II-VI, which has also received multiple investments from Apple's Advanced Manufacturing Fund, first supplied Apple with VCSELs in the TrueDepth camera for iPhones and iPads before also being selected to provide LiDAR sensors for the iPhone Pro and iPad Pro product lines. Apple's AR headset is expected to include LiDAR sensors as well.
The new Corning glass wafers, along with smartglasses reference design from waveguide maker WaveOptics, will be on display at Society for Information Display's Display Week in San Jose, California, which takes place May 14-16. In addition to its alliance with Corning, WaveOptics has a manufacturing partnership in place with Goertek, which is also listed as an Apple supplier, another dynamic that works in Corning's favor.