On Thursday, waveguide maker WaveOptics announced that semiconductor and microelectromechanical systems supplier EV Group (EVG) will provide the manufacturing infrastructure for the production of its waveguide displays designed to support lower-cost, third-party augmented reality wearables.
One of the key components of smartglasses and AR headsets that facilitates their augmented reality functionality is the waveguide. The waveguide transfers (or guides) light from the light source, such as a micro projector, toward the user's eyes, allowing users to see digital content in their natural field of view.
WaveOptics' boasts the ability to deliver 40 degrees field of view and a large eyebox (or viewing window). The company also claims its technology offers crisp text and stable imagery.
The partnership with EVG will enable WaveOptics increase production capacity and lower the overall cost of the waveguide component to the point that electronics manufacturers could be able to offer AR devices for less than $600 by the end of 2019.
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"This partnership marks an AR industry inflection point and is a critical step in the mass manufacture of high-quality AR solutions — a capability that has not been possible to date," said David Hayes, CEO at WaveOptics, in a statement. "This collaboration is key to unlocking the development of AR wearables. Together we are well positioned to bring mass market innovation in AR, opening new paths to scalability at a lower cost than ever before."
What makes WaveOptics' waveguide unique is its design, which offers a more economical form factor in terms of construction and energy consumption.
EV Group will supply the equipment and production processes for wafer bonding, the process of joining glass and silicon, and nanoimprint lithography (NIL), the process for stamping the nanostructures during the production of the waveguides.
"For the proliferation of our leading-edge NIL technology, we have created our NILPhotonics Competence Center," said Markus Wimplinger, corporate technology development and IP director at EVG. "Within this framework, which has strong policies to protect our customers' IP, we support our customers on their product development and commercialization journey from the feasibility to the production phase. This is exactly what we are doing today with WaveOptics, an established leader in AR, to provide a truly scalable solution to end customers."
A number of issues, including price, design, component size (such as battery and CPU), processing power, and image quality, have delayed the emergence of an AR wearable that would suit the mainstream consumer market. But if WaveOptics can deliver on a waveguide that produces quality AR images at a low price, which can work within a small form factor device, then we may not have to wait too much longer for that consumer AR unicorn.