WaveOptics, makers of diffractive waveguides, has inched closer toward getting products featuring its technology to market through a production partnership with a consumer electronics company whose clients include Google, Microsoft, and Sony.
China-based Goertek, an original design manufacturer (ODM) with a $2 billion market capitalization, will serve as WaveOptics' outlet for producing its waveguides, the optical component of smartglasses that projects digital images over the user's field of view. The deal will allow for high production volume and, ultimately, a consumer-friendly price point for smartglasses, which WaveOptics has previously pegged at $600.
The partnership will also enable WaveOptics to place its technology in Goertek's reference designs and white-label products that the ODM produces for other tech companies. WaveOptics waveguides are capable of displaying a wide field of view with a smaller lightbox, meaning that manufacturers can achieve a smaller form factor that looks more like normal glasses.
"We are delighted to announce this exclusive partnership with Goertek. This is another significant milestone for us, as it provides the opportunity to deliver our superior waveguide technology, at a mass market price point for AR wearables," said David Hayes, CEO of WaveOptics, in a statement. "Goertek is one of the leading global ODM's in AR/VR. Their outstanding experience, global positioning, capability, and knowledge is integral to the partnership and this agreement is an endorsement of our technology."
A WaveOptics spokesperson declined to disclose details of the partnership, such as the monetary value of the deal or production unit targets, or even what the extent of the "exclusive" deal entails. However, the spokesperson did note that the company will have prototypes with a "range of fields of view" available for demonstration, and more information on the fruits of the alliance at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January.
"We have been following the development trend for AR optics. WaveOptics' unique waveguide technology has demonstrated its superior image quality as well as manufacturing potential," said Long Jiang, CEO of Goertek. "We are delighted to team up with WaveOptics to provide a volume production solution of superior performance waveguides for our potential customers in the AR market."
This time last year, a company spokesperson estimated that AR wearables featuring WaveOptics display technology could hit the market by the end of 2018. And earlier this year, the company partnered with the EV Group to supply the stamping equipment and the manufacturing process for the waveguides.
While that 2018 timeline now appears to have been overly optimistic, WaveOptics is nevertheless positioned to play a significant part in the rapidly unfolding consumer-grade smartglasses field.
"Our waveguides are now ready for mass deployment," said Hayes. "We can supply our rapidly growing customer pipeline with mass market priced waveguides. This agreement reflects the real momentum within our business."
Another maker of smartglasses components, Kopin Corporation, entered in strategic partnership with Goertek in 2017 and lists Samsung, Vuxiz, and Olympus among its clients.
However, there's no guarantee that the WaveOptics-Goertek pairing will result in anything as high-profile as products from the aforementioned AR headset makers. The product could just as easily end up among the wares of Shanghai's knock-off markets, we just don't have enough detail to know for sure yet.
Nevertheless, with companies like North's Focals showing the way to combine form, function, and fashion, we're rapidly reaching the point where consumer-grade smartglasses are becoming realistic. With Goertek as a partner, WaveOptics certainly has an opportunity to fit in with a company looking to rush in and catch-up to the existing players.