Article was originally posted in the Nikkei newspaper in Japan on Dec. 13, 2018
Getting Ahead of “Post-Smartphone”
Mitsubishi Chemical HD to invest in US Start-Up Company
Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation invested in DigiLens Inc., which is a start-up company to develop Augmented Reality (AR). This is the first case through the Venture Capital (VC), which was established in July, and plastic lenses that project clear image will be developed together. Being an “insider” of the cutting-edge area allows to morph out of a company waiting for purchase orders to come in. The purpose is to get ahead of the coming AR era.
DigiLens’ AR glasses display by overlaying images in the field of view. Its unique technology, “Photopolymer” is used to create layers between 2 sheets of lenses which a reduced-size projector projects image to. Chris Pickett, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) emphasized “Other companies’ AR devices are dark like sunglasses, but DigiLens’ strength is to project image onto clear lenses.”
In fact, the purpose of DigiLens to partner with Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation is to develop lenses. Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings’ plastic technology will be incorporated to produce low-priced, light-weight and clear lenses. If the material can be switched from glass to plastic, AR glasses can be light-weight and the stress of users will decrease. Since plastic is hard to break, producing safer device is possible.
“We are going to develop AR glasses that will be ubiquitous to consumers,” Pickett says. The challenge is lens’ cost.
According to Pickett, “the manufacturing cost of the existing AR lenses is 250 to 300 dollars (approximately 28000 yen to 34000 yen). DigiLens may reduce the cost to 50 dollars per sheet with a possibility of 25 dollars per sheet.” The company plans to make AR glass available for purchase in 2020 with the retail price being lowered to 300 to 400 dollars.
To draw consumers’ attention, applications that make consumers to want to try AR glasses are necessary. Pickett emphasizes the two – “entertainment and communication”. These two also boosted the popularity of smartphones.
This time, DigiLens announced the partnership with Niantic, Inc., which is known for its “Pokemon GO,” to secure powerful contents. Pickett explained “We want to make AR glasses to be an open platform and collect various types of software.” It is opposite from US Apple, which locked in its smartphone with its basic software (operating system) to earn fees in closed economy to build an “empire.”
“AR will be a technology that leads to the next generation,” Pickett predicts. He sees AR as the 4th innovation after computer, internet and mobile phones. When AR era begins, a new ecosystem will be produced that replaces smartphone. DigiLens has already had SONY Corporation, Continental AG (Germany), Hon Hai Precision Industry (Taiwan) and Young Optics invested in it. Top corporations from each industry are lining up.
Larry Meixner, Managing Corporate Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation, says “We wanted to an “insider” of AR.” The reason behind his comment is that he feels a sense of crisis in waiting for business opportunities in an extension of his company’s existing business.
“If we stay as an outsider, our action will be 1 to 2 years behind.” (Meixner) Instead of staying as a “subcontractor” that keeps on waiting for orders to come in, can his company break into a new field to produce a killer material that is vital to AR glasses? The leadership competition for the new era has already begun.
Pickett, CEO, DigiLens and Meixner, Managing Corporate Executive Officer, Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation