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Enabling AR glasses: How WaveOpics supplies the key components

The Katana waveguide, by WaveOptics. Photo: WaveOptics.

WaveOptics invited Virtual Perceptions to their Oxford-based offices, to try out the latest waveguides and projectors they are developing for their NDA-locked clients. The day started with their key announcement, the Katana, alongside showing us their lab.

Waveguides and projectors are the components that project a screen on a lens, which in turn augment the world with an overlay. Their demos ranged from small notifications that appear at the edge of a screen, to watching football matches over a massive screen. While some companies like Vuzix create all parts of AR glasses, WaveOptics focuses on supplying key components to interested companies who want to mass-produce their own.

I came because I wanted to see the technology behind the glasses of the future. What are the components that enable AR glasses to work the way they do? And how far has the technology progressed over the last few years?

It turns out, very far indeed.

Katana, their thinnest and lightest waveguide

The main purpose of inviting Virtual Perceptions was to introduce the Katana under embargo. The waveguide is designed for consumer-level AR glasses, weighing just 7g. Its aim is to combat the main barriers of AR adoption: cost, design, and power usage. The company claimed that, by designing for all three factors, it has the right lens for some of their clients.

The company sees it as a pivot-point: “Katana is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for augmented reality headsets, bringing mass-market ambitions closer to reality,” said David Hayes, CEO of WaveOptics.

“As the thinnest, full-colour waveguide available on the market, Katana enables our customers to design new products that can meet the performance expectations of a wider range of consumers, and we can help them do that at the right price point. As 5G takes off and the focus turns to wearables, we are looking forward to seeing what our customers will do with this technology.”

WaveOptics demoed the Katana in a neighbouring room. I was impressed by the lightness and how crisp the image was as well. It showed a model of a car engine spinning around, with details of each part around it.

What struck me also was how wide the FOV was as well. I’ve always been used to small, constrictive squares which show little of the AR, breaking the immersion. The Katana bucked my preconception by filling my eyes with the content, far further than I expected. (The Odin-class waveguide was even bigger, and very impressive).

WaveOpics and the future of AR glasses

WaveOpics has been trading since 2014, with 90 team members and offices across the world. So far they have raised $60m in funding. The company works closely with SCHOTT, EVG, Inkron, and Goertek to supply the waveguides and projectors to clients globally.

A range of waveguides are available from the company, each suited for differing needs:

Up to 30⁰28⁰ and 40⁰60⁰
Lightweight, low cost, low power smart glasses designLightweight smart glasses design where colour and complexity of AR headset is more than just notification-based use cases.Full colour, an ultra-high field of view & periphery vision.

WaveOptics is also interesting because they are knee-deep in the future of AR. Mike Lynch, the Chief Revenue Officer, hinted that we should start seeing more glasses hit the market in late 2020, or perhaps in 2021. Their CEO also hinted that, on the enterprise level, they can be used to create second screens while working on a computer.

I was also struck by how passionate the team are about their tech, particularly David Grey, the co-founder. Invested and passionate, they are seeking to soar in the market by providing the best components they can.

The demo showed that the technology has gone a long way compared to their competition, and that new customers will be surprised by how crispt and clear the image is alongside how big the FOV has become. I can also see why they specialised so deeply; when they took us around the lab, my brain fried a little with the explanation for how the tech worked. The way projected light is bent to make an image is both astonishing and, in part, beyond my comprehension. But it works, and it works wonderfully.

WaveOptics will not yet disclose who they are working with. But with Panasonic and Samsung entering the market, it would be interesting to see how the competition heats up. And, as with any market, it’s always important to keep track of the suppliers of components.

I look forward to seeing the partners WaveOptics works with in the future.

Panasonic VR glasses
Panasonic VR glasses. Photo credit: Panasonic.