Having been involved with VR from the beginning, it was “Back to the Future” for me, where with my development team, we proudly demonstrated our latest eyewear reference design, a 50deg Wide Field of View (WFOV) headset named DigiLens ArHUD. Now, I should clarify this is not a product itself, but a demo aimed at other companies whom we would like to manufacture their own AR headsets which incorporate DigiLens’ waveguide optics.
Its early days, but we chose to integrate a 720p binocular pico-projector from an established DLP maker, a state of the art Leap Motion hand sensor providing excellent real time hand tracking, all in conjunction with 3D graphics and object “physics” courtesy of Unity3D. Add a real time Arduino head tracker and “voila”, waveguide enabled WFOV AR eyewear, exceeding Magic Leap and HoloLens FOV. Boy, it sure helps to have these “off the shelf” interoperable components and sub-systems for ease of integration. Especially on our development budget! (no pun intended). In my old days of VR, we literally had to devise and hone each and every component ourselves! From the graphics processor/floating point co-processor PC cards including parallel bus backplane and operating system, to the headsets with WFOV “Field Lens” refractive optics and LCD panels (20 years on, no change here for VR “diving mask” headsets today), strain sensors for “Exoskeletal” hand tracking, and the low latency IR head tracker we developed … What a trip down memory lane.
The erstwhile evolution of this DigiLens reference design was inspired, driven and supported by our military customer and partner Rockwell Collins, who have been a stalwart backer of DigiLens WFOV AR waveguide optics for their revolutionary digital night vision (IVDS) application. – Now there is a sensible AR application ready for field trial! Of note, they also make the pilot’s helmet for the F35, what an amazing company and program, scheduled to last for an unbelievable 100 years+ – the airframe that is, hopefully not the Helmet!
But this WFOV capability DigiLens have achieved was not inevitable. There was a great deal of waveguide development involved.
It required a comprehensive upgrade of many aspects of our core technology, including the waveguide substrate glass index, matching the DigiLens Reactive Monomer Liquid Crystal Mix holographic photopolymer index, our material deposition or “coating” process, the exposure tooling design and finally the waveguide design including more advanced diffractive optical features. This design addressed the application specific user ergonomics, in this case requiring a super large Eyebox (the part of the waveguide eyeglass you look through), suitable for the night vision application where the soldier is moving “fast and sometimes furious”!
The outcome, a transparent AR waveguide which will form the kernal of our performance improvement strategy and roadmap. Whether it’s a product for architectural visualization, consumer gaming, telepresence or night vision in which it is used today. We plan in the future to move to higher resolution, widen the FOV up to 150deg or more, laminate waveguide eye tracking and add analog focus for 3D vergence accommodation. ArHUD will eventually be used in immersive, low latency VR applications, switching between AR or VR as the transparent outside world will be electrically switched and blocked – yet another advantage of our Liquid Crystal based electro-optical platform technology. Our goal, a true merger of AR, VR and MR applications into lightweight all day wearable DigiLens based “XR” Eyewear.
In case you have further interest, I had the privilege to speak at Augmented World Expo last month where I shared a few slides, which also provided an opportunity to chart our journey and exhibit along with many others in AR. It’s certainly an exciting time for XR eyewear display makers like us, much like the 90s were in VR, driving toward cloud powered, hands free, human-computer interaction.
AWE 2018: “DigiLens Switchable Bragg Grating Waveguide Optics for AR Applications”
Translations for your convenience
Jonathan Waldern, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman & CTO