Report: Mass-Market AR at five or seven years

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Market research and analysis firm Lux Research predicts that consumer augmented reality (AR) devices will take five to seven years, in particular the long-awaited “smart glasses”, to transition to the mass market. This development, writes the company in “The innovations of hardware and materials that allow the augmented reality of the consumer”, presupposes “significant innovations” in the optics and photonics underlying these devices, to simultaneously reduce the size and weight of the device and improve optical performance.

Business versus consumer uses

Lux’s study notes that the “basic components for a functional, immersive AR headdress” are now available. Some companies, such as Microsoft and Lenovo, are working hard to implement these technologies in business-use-oriented RA devices to improve productivity, design, and support decision-making, and even customer experiences. But these business devices are bulky and heavy; the Microsoft HoloLens 2, for example, weighs more than half a kilogram. And business headphones can cost more than $ 2,000.

For RA consumers to take off, the devices will have to be much lighter, both literally and in their impact on the portfolio. They will also have to address numerous ongoing issues in the development of RA, such as mitigating conflicts between vergence and accommodation, shortening latency times, controlling heat and contrast, and an appropriate visual field (see “Visual Perception in RA / VR ”, OPN, April 2021). .

Icsptica, light engines and sensors

Reaching ubiquitous “smart glasses” that bring immersive AR to the masses, according to the Lux report, will do important work to pack the currently limited capabilities of enterprise-wide AR headphones into something that fits snugly in the nose. of the consumer. Especially important, says the firm, will be the development of materials and hardware technology in three optical areas: optical components, “light motors” and sensors.

Between optical components, the key areas for development, according to the Lux report, will be waveguides, where increasing the field of view will be a development priority, and holographic optical elements (HOE), which the company says can serve as “stopgap” technology while waveguides continue to mature.

In the area of light engines, Lux expects microLEDs and OLEDs to have the fastest adoption in the short term. But he believes systems involving laser sources offer a superior experience and will likely come to the forefront in consumer applications, as miniaturization efforts will bear fruit, probably not until 2026 or later.

Finally, cameras and sensors Lux, he believes, will see continuous improvements in both device size and manufacturing costs. Some of the improvements could be driven by the use of technologies, such as quantum dots for IR detection and ultra-fine metals, which are now only moving from the lab to commercial space.

Three stages of consumer RA

Combining all this, the Lux report predicts that the company’s transition to consumer RA will take place in three waves of consumer devices. The earliest style to gain strength among consumers, possibly in the next two or three years, could be that of video streaming devices. These would be virtual reality headphones that provide an AR simulation by viewing real-world video on an OLED screen, with AR overlays at the top of the video screen. Applications for these devices, according to Lux, “will be limited to the interior and will focus on entertainment.”

In Lux’s view, real “smart glasses” with a smaller form factor could start to be adopted in two or five years, and will extend RA to outdoor spaces. These early glasses will likely offer relatively limited features, such as notifications and navigation aids (still tied to smartphone connectivity), superimposed on the real world seen through clear lenses.

Finally, as a result of current research on optical RA components, the company sees a third wave of “fully immersive and smooth RA glasses,” which perfectly combine the virtual and real world, entering the scene in five years. or seven years. The period from now to then, writes Lux, offers “substantial opportunities for developers of materials and hardware, while the later world will present unlimited virtual development opportunities.”

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