New Waveguides for AR Glasses Are Coming to a Face Near You
Lasers, fashion, occlusion, and other news from SPIE Photonics West
I spent two days at SPIE Photonics West this week catching up on the latest innovations in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) displays. This particular conference may have been a bit too dry for even tech journalists to cover, so I’ll extract the most interesting bits for a less technical audience here.
Disclaimer: I am an adviser to several of the companies that presented. To keep this article balanced, I try to avoid endorsing or bashing companies by name. I will talk mostly about the tech: pros and cons. I’m also not an optics expert, though I’ve learned a bit by working with experts on early HoloLens and undisclosed projects in other companies. Some of my work was in scouting and evaluating technologies like these. However, I spent much more time considering the questions around what should we build and why.
What’s new with waveguides?
Waveguides have been the top technology option for most AR glasses thus far, as used in HoloLens, Magic Leap, and more. A waveguide is a mostly clear, thin piece of glass or plastic inside AR glasses that (almost) magically helps bend and combine light into your eye. This added light represents the virtual 3D objects you’re meant to see on top of the real world.
Companies designing AR glasses face a thousand challenges even after they solve the display issues. Most of the deep AR research and development companies tend to work with the more established players to build their glasses in original equipment manufacturer (OEM) style. Few try to go to market alone. But either way, there are some impressive new waveguides coming soon to a face near you. Having more display options is generally good news for the industry at this point in time.
Humans can see typically out to 220 degrees horizontally using both eyes. But our peripheral perception (outside of the central 10 degrees) is very limited. Waveguides generally suffer from a limited field of view (FOV) and related issues due to fundamental physics constraints — mainly that the angle that light can exit the guide is limited by the material used (technically the index of…