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Cheaper AR glasses, are on the way to the market thanks to a new collaboration between Britain’s WaveOptics and EV Group. WaveOptics is the world leading designer and manufacturer of diffractive waveguides. EVG is an Austrian manufacturer of process equipment for the semiconductor industry.
The aim is to combine WaveOptics’ advanced waveguide technology with EVG’s manufacturing expertise to mass produce cheaper AR glasses. As David Hayes, the CEO of WaveOptics has explained.
This partnership marks an AR industry inflexion point and is a critical step in the mass manufacture of high quality AR solutions – a capability that has not been possible to date.
A combination of EVG’s expertise together with our scalable and versatile technology, will allow AR-end user products to be on the market for under $600 by the end of next year.
This collaboration is key to unlocking the development of AR wearables; together we are well positioned to bring mass market innovation in AR, opening new paths to scalability at a lower cost than ever before.
But WaveOptics is at pains to emphasize the scalability of their technology and foresees its waveguides as the optical component for cheaper AR glasses. Indeed, Markus Wimplinger, their director of Corporate technology development and IP, has stated:
We develop new technologies and processes to outperform the most complex challenges, helping our customers to successfully commercialise their new product ideas. For the proliferation of our leading edge Nanoimprint Lithography (NIL) technology, we have created our NILPhotonics Competence Center.
Within this framework, which has strong policies to protect our customers’ IP, we support our customers on their product development and commercialisation journey from the feasibility to the production phase. This is exactly what we are doing today with WaveOptics, an established leader in AR, to provide a truly scalable solution to end customers.
But the alliance is not without its competitors. Thus, industry insiders note that the WaveOptics-EVG partnership will be vying with Vuzix (WaveOptics’ main rival in the manufacture of cheaper AR glasses) for such customers as Apple and Facebook for their technology.
Apple has been hovering on the edge of both Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality. They are poised to make their move when the time is right. Facebook has already jumped into the deep end of VR, with their purchase of Oculus, but are now planning on branching out into AR too.
In fact, as recently as March, Vuzix claimed that it has signed non-disclosure agreements with 10 potential customers whom they claim are now in the due diligence review phase. Furthermore, last December, Quanta (a member of Apple’s supply chain) and Israeli optical technology company Lumus teamed up to make headsets costing less than $1,000.
New technology needed
One of the things that has been holding back cheaper AR glasses, according to Evan Spiegel, the CEO of Snap is the cost and quality limitations of the existing hardware. Indeed one of the reasons that Apple has yet to enter the fray with anything more than operating system support for AR is because of the lack of the necessary developments in hardware.
"The technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way," he told Vogue in 2017. He added that "Something that you would see out in the market any time soon would not be something that any of us would be satisfied with," emphasizing Apple’s ongoing striving not just for quality, but for perfection.”
However this may change with the WaveOptics-EVG partnership. For example, EVG reckons that they could supply machines for implementing WaveOptics' existing technology in as little as four months. And David Hayes has made clear that WaveOptics is open in selling its technology to AR product makers and platforms on a non-discriminatory basis.
Indeed, one of WaveOptics great strengths and market advantages is that their technology can be implemented in both glass (the traditional medium for AR) and plastic, which is both cheaper and more reliable.