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Lumus secures $15 million to expand their augmented reality optical display capabilities

TechCrunch TechCrunch 15/06/2016 Jay Donovan

Lumus—makers of transparent near-to-eye displays for augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR)—announced this morning that they have secured $15 million in a Series B round, led by global private investment firm Shanda Group and also by Crystal-Optech, a Chinese optical imaging company.

One of the main intellectual properties of Lumus is something they call a Light-guide Optical Element (LOE) waveguide. It is a patented way that they project AR, MR and other content and media onto special transparent displays that fit into smart glasses or head mounted displays (HMD).

Essentially, there are tiny prisms built into the display lens that are able to accept light from an extremely small projector while remaining see-through. This LOE combined with micro projector are major components that make up what they call their “optical engine.”

According to Lumus the advantage of their optics is that they can have a very bright, wide field of view with an extremely small footprint.

In my short conversation with Lumus CEO Ben Weinberger, he went as far as to say that “for every given field of view, Lumus can show a much brighter and better image at better quality and in a smaller form-factor than any other technology.”

For a quick primer on field of view, check this out, but generally, unaided human eyes have a forward, horizontal field of view nearly 180 degrees (114 of which are binocular) and a vertical field of view of about 135 degrees.

Lumus plans to use the funding in three ways: to increase production capacity, to expand R&D capability and also to increase business development.

In terms of production capacity, the company says it has already gone from producing 200-300 optical engines per month to right around 1500 per month. With additional capacity they are planning to, in the words of Weinberger, “produce many thousands per month.”

Regarding R&D, the fruits of this expansion may be seen as early as Q4 when the company is planning to bring their new 60 degree FOV optical engine to market (that’s 60 degrees in each eye making 120 possible for viewers).

I first reported on this 60 degree FOV technological development at CES 2016 by sneaking a peak at a previously unseen demo of this optical engine. Apparently, they have made the product considerably smaller even since CES and upped the resolution from 720p to 1080p.

Additionally, while many of Lumus’s existing contracts are military or mission critical projects, the company are still planning to use parts of this funding to make additional displays with a more consumer oriented angle.

Still, questions remain. Is the market ready for consumer AR devices? Is the  market for HMDs getting crowded? Despite field of view advantages what about holography, as it’s all the rage with devices like the Hololens and Meta’s products. Will Lumus have an offering like that soon?

There are some answers. In terms of room in the market, Lumus is a company that already counts DAQRI, Atheer and others as customers. Lumus provides many companies with optical engines rather than compete against them with individual products (even though they do have their own product lines). With regard to the consumer market they don’t plan to necesarily enter as a retailer, but again, as a provider—making more consumer focused optical engines that customers can use in their own products.

As for Holography, while admitting that Microsoft and Meta did succeed with their hologram tracking and persistence (e.g. being able to fix holograms to certain physical locations…even being able to walk around a hologram as though it were a real object), Lumus still feels that their own optical engines are superior to what is on the holographic display market today.

They claim to still look to a future when their display technology might be employed in most interactive eyewear, and with revenue estimates of the market for AR/MR and VR reaching up to $120 billion by 2020, the future could be bright.

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