The company behind augmented reality's first real gaming hit, Pokémon GO, is quietly making moves toward supporting the rapidly growing smartglasses space that may one day move its content away from smartphones and tablets and onto AR lenses positioned on your face.
On Friday, augmented reality display maker DigiLens announced that it has closed a Series C funding round from Pokémon GO developer Niantic and Diamond Edge Ventures, the investment subsidiary that Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation (MCHC) launched in July.
The company declined to disclose the dollar value of the investment, but a previous Series C round closed in May netted a total investment of $25 million. The funding will enable the company to further develop its holographic waveguide displays for automotive, enterprise, consumer, aviation, and military industries.
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"We are thrilled to have Niantic and MCHC join Continental AG and our other strategic investors," said Chris Pickett, CEO of DigiLens, in a statement. "These investments will strengthen the ecosystem of support for DigiLens, its licensees and their customers for the manufacturing of large volumes of displays at consumer price points that cannot be matched by other technologies."
While Niantic's investment comes through mutual self-interest between the developer and DigiLens, Mitsubishi's participation as a maker of advanced materials creates a strategic partnership. The manufacturer will produce a new type of plastic material that is lighter, cheaper, and more durable for use in DigiLens waveguide displays, which offer a wider field of view for smartglasses and heads-up displays in motorcycle helmets compared to the displays used by Magic Leap and Microsoft.
"We could not have found a better first investment than DigiLens, as it demonstrates how MCHC's advanced technology can help create a new market through strategic partnership with a world technology leader." said Patrick Suel, president of Diamond Edge Ventures. "Through this investment, we also become an active participant in an AR/VR technology ecosystem projected to have broad impact across B2B and B2C industries, and we will accelerate adoption of a new computing platform that will benefit users worldwide."
Though Niantic's games, namely Pokémon GO, the recently-reboooted Ingress, and the forthcoming Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, currently have a home in the mobile AR ecosystem, smartglasses would give the company the ability to offer an even more immersive experience for gamers. Consumer-grade AR wearables would also expand the development market for the Niantic Real World Platform, the AR cloud toolkit that enables multiplayer gaming, persistent content, and real world occlusion for mobile apps.
"Niantic has spent years transforming the world into a game board," said John Hanke, CEO of Niantic. "DigiLens is on an amazing path, in collaboration with MCHC, to bring more affordable and accessible hardware experiences to players around the world, making it possible for characters and gameplay to be seamlessly woven into the real world, supported by compelling safe and lightweight plastic AR displays."
During his on-stage appearance at the Samsung Developers Conference earlier this month, Hanke shared that he still wants to fulfill the vision of Pokémon GO as displayed in the original launch trailer.
Along with its Real World Platform, advances in AR hardware and network infrastructure will eventually enable Niantic to fulfill that vision. A recent partnership with Deutsche Telekom got Niantic started on the network half of the equation. With the investment in DigiLens, Niantic is doing its part to make sure that it's part of the wearable AR hardware ecosystem of the future.
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