The augmented reality/virtual reality (AR/VR) space continues to grow with innovations across the global photonics community serving as the driving force. Large consumer tech firms have been exploring opportunities and the work from an array of startups continues to raise the bar in what end users can expect in coming years.
One prime example: OQmented, a 2018 spinoff of the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology (Fraunhofer ISIT; Itzehoe, Germany), recently closed its series A funding round while also welcoming Sharp Devices Europe (Munich, Germany) as a strategic investor and partner. OQmented develops ultra-compact projection display systems using laser beam scanning technology (LBS).
Read on as Thomas von Wantoch, co-CEO and co-founder of OQmented, discusses the funding and where the company is headed.
Laser Focus World: How has the OQmented team continued to move along its technology since the last time we spoke? Any interesting ah-ha moments?
Thomas von Wantoch: Innovation is ongoing. We are now developing complete light engines (MEMS, laser, electronics, software) as a plug-and-play solution for the AR/VR community.
OQmented is supporting two different kinds of AR glasses. AR smart glasses, which are typically monocular with a field of view of up to 30°—displaying 2D information, and sparse information such as chat messages. And fully immersive AR glasses with 3D information and a binocular display with up to 100° field of view.
The company also has its own optics team now in Jena, Germany with ongoing light engine integration with one of the big integrators, and ASIC integration for a plug-and-play light engine. We also had the first ASICs and MEMS to successfully demonstrate power consumption as low as 10 mW.
One ah-ha moment? According to a February 2023 Gartner report, micro-LED is not fulfilling the expectations and LBS is expected to become the leading technology for AR glasses.1
LFW: What role will strategic collaborations and cooperation (like the relationship announced with Sharp) play for the company as it continues to push towards LBS being the driving technology in this space?
von Wantoch: Big Tech and other players are racing to accomplish AR glasses that are ultimately able to replace the smartphone. Cooperating with Sharp bundles enormous know-how and means we can offer our LBS light engines as plug-and-play solutions.
Sharp will play an important role for OQmented’s increased bandwidth of commercialization options. This partner will be of relevance with respect to customer engagements, supply chain, overall strategy, and joint innovations, but at the same time the partnership does not limit OQmented’s options to cooperate with other suppliers, customers, and partners.
LFW: What opportunities do you see for others within the photonics community to join you in creating dynamic solutions, especially as the AR/VR space continues to grow in acceptance?
von Wantoch: One striking fact that often is not realized is that Europe has fantastic photonics technology providers, but isn’t at all capable to make the most of it. In Germany and Italy, we have the world’s leading optical MEMS companies. In Finland and the U.K., we have the most relevant waveguide suppliers. Across Europe, we have the biggest glasses companies, the world’s most important light source suppliers, and the most renowned optics design and manufacturing hubs.
A big system integrator is missing in Europe that is capable to fully exploit the maximum benefit of such concentrated photonics technologies. Most likely, the whole photonics community will participate in the big transitions we have ahead of us, but Europe could benefit even stronger if there was also a big system integrator, consumer company, or Big Tech company.
1. S. Yin, “Emerging Tech: Three MEMS Technologies Will Enhance Metaverse User Experiences,” Gartner (Feb. 14, 2023).