The good news is that AR is coming of age. At last, we have passed the “build-it-and-they-will-come” stage, where technology is developed then goes off in search of a purpose. As with all truly successful products, development is now driven by the users, their needs, and use cases.
The bad news is that these use cases are very diverse, requiring separate technological solutions. At WaveOptics, instead of than awkwardly addressing them all with a ‘one size fits all’ approach that compromises on quality, we have taken this tide seriously. Rather than sitting Canute-style resisting these differing requirements, we have adapted our technology and business model accordingly.
To illustrate our approach, I will divide the market into segments based on the number of separate waveguide plates involved; though it should be noted that this is a simplistic view to ease explanation, and of course the boundaries are blurred.
Single plate systems deliver the lightweight, smaller size, low power consumption and lower cost that will drive the large-scale consumer adoption of AR glasses. The trade-offs are narrower field of view (<30°) and limited color rendition, but in these notification and graphical guidance use cases, anything else is overkill. The generally accepted view is that such systems will start to gain traction with consumers by 2022.
The “middle tier” is the main area where AR has successfully moved beyond beta and into true use. This is driven by B2B industrial applications where moderate fields of view are required. Here the two plate systems come to the fore, delivering superior fields of view (<45°) and brighter, more consistent color. The compromise is obviously cost, size and weight, however when manufacturers see noticeable increases in product yield and quality, these become very acceptable trade-offs to make.
WaveOptics typically addresses the demanding “top tier” requirements of markets such as aviation with its three plate systems. These offer fields of view <60° and huge dynamic range – this is vital when skies are either very bright or very dark, and peripheral awareness is vital. As always, there will be trade-offs – principally that of power consumption – but in these use cases, a wired power supply can be assumed instead of relying on batteries.
Having developed a portfolio of technology building blocks, including the waveguides discussed above and a range of accompanying projectors, WaveOptics offers a range of ‘off the shelf’ solutions to quickly get customers through technology assessment and prototyping. If time to market is a key priority, then these standard modules are the fastest way to production.
For bigger customers with more specific needs, the next step is to create a custom solution suited to the customer’s exact requirements. These can range from simply customizing the profile of the waveguide, to a complete system development delivering bespoke optical and electrical solutions. WaveOptics assigns a dedicated team to the project for these custom developments, drawing upon our wide range of expertise in AR and the real-life challenges of successfully implementing it into products that do what the user really needs.