Making the ‘quasi impossible’ possible

Jan. 17, 2023
An augmented-reality (AR) breakthrough sets the stage for headset manufacturers to display digital objects in the real world, meaning users can interact at arm's length and naturally focus on objects whether placed close-up or far away.

For the past decade, progress along the roadmap for augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and mixed reality (XR) has seemed very incremental in nature, with just enough small evolutions keeping the dream alive.

So, as true evolutions surface, it makes sense to rejoice. Case in point: VividQ, a holographic display technology developer for AR gaming, and Dispelix, a waveguide designer and manufacturer, have come together to design and manufacture a ‘waveguide combiner’ capable of accurately displaying simultaneous variable-depth 3D content within a user’s environment (see video).

Currently available AR devices present images at a fixed distance far from the wearer, well outside of arms’ reach, limiting interaction and leading to vergence accommodation conflict (VAC) and eye strain.

“For mass-market adoption, AR needs to offer consumers an immersive experience that they can use for long periods of time without feeling nauseated or suffering from eye strain. Consumers will be able to buy headsets that are as light as possible, and which give them the ability to seamlessly merge real and digital worlds,” says VividQ CTO Tom Durrant. “Such an experience requires the ability to interact with three-dimensional digital characters and objects within arms’ reach, and others placed in and around their environment (desk, room, or outside world). Holography is the only realistic way to achieve this in a consumer product.”

Better understanding of waveguide combiners

Waveguides give a lightweight and conventional-looking front end for AR headsets and are necessary for widespread adoption. Most available waveguides use pupil replication to capture an image from a small display panel or eyebox and enlarge the image with a grid of copies of the small image in front of the viewer’s eye. While making the AR wearable, ergonomic, and easy to use, small eyeboxes are notoriously difficult to line up with the user’s pupil, resulting in the user’s eye falling off the image.

This arrangement requires precisely fitting headsets to the user. Unfortunately, variations in Inter Pupillary Distance (IPD) between users makes it very difficult to align with the eyebox. Since there is a fundamental tradeoff between the eyebox and the field of view (FOV) in display, this replication allows the optical designer to make the eyebox very small, relying on the replication process to give a big effective image to the viewer, while also maximizing the FOV.

Additionally, waveguides assume incoming light rays are parallel (hence a 2D image), as they require that the light bouncing around within the structure all follows paths of the same length. Adding diverging rays of differing lengths (a 3D image) can be problematic, creating an effect where the user sees multiple partially overlapping copies of the input image all at random distances. Currently, having the eyebox and FOV required for a decent AR experience restricts application to only using 2D display types, which can lead to nausea and eye fatigue without providing a fully immersive experience. 

The 3D waveguide from VividQ is composed of two elementsa modification of the standard pupil replicating waveguide design and an algorithm to compute a hologram that corrects for distortion due to the waveguide.

Collaborative effort

The collaboration between VividQ and Dispelix enables users to enjoy immersive AR gaming experiences where digital content can be placed in their physical world and they can interact with it naturally and comfortably. The two companies have also announced the formation of a commercial partnership to develop the new 3D waveguide technology towards mass production readiness. This advance enables headset manufacturers to kickstart AR product roadmaps now. 

For an immersive AR experience, consumers need a sufficient field of view and the ability to focus on 3D images at the full range of natural distancesanywhere from 10 cm to optical infinity, simultaneouslyin the same way they do naturally with physical objects. A waveguide combiner is the industry’s favored method of displaying AR images in a compact form factor. This next-generation waveguide and accompanying software are optimized for 3D applications like gaming, which means that consumer brands around the world can unlock the market’s full potential.

The patent-pending 3D waveguide combiner works in harmony with the VividQ’s software, both of which can be licensed by wearable manufacturers in order to build out a wearable product roadmap. VividQ’s holographic display software works with standard games engines like Unity and Unreal Engine, making it very easy for game developers to create new experiences. Dispelix will manufacture and supply the 3D waveguide at scale.

“Wearable AR devices have huge potential all around the world. For applications such as gaming and professional use, where the user needs to be immersed for long periods of time, it is vital that content is true 3D and placed within the user’s environment, says Dispelix CEO and Cofounder Antti Sunnari. “This also overcomes the issues of nausea and fatigue. We are very pleased to be working with VividQ as a waveguide design and manufacturing partner on this breakthrough 3D waveguide.”

Addressing applications

Gaming is perhaps the biggest current market for AR, which requires users to interact with 3D items at different focal depths and to be able to do so comfortably for an extended period of time, which VividQ’s technology enables. “This breakthrough is particularly timely now in the nascent stages of development of the Metaverse, which is predicated on the ability to experience 3D environments and objects in an easy and intuitive way,” Durrant says. “There are many other applications for AR that also require 3D objects and the freedom to focus naturally, without feeling sick or uncomfortable.”

An AR headset needs to be user-friendly and comfortable to wear for long periods of time. Computer-generated holography achieves this, overcoming the VAC/eye-strain impact of other display technologies.

“Waveguides are popular within the AR industry because they are lightweight and enable you to manufacture an ergonomic device with a compact optical engine. Our waveguide design offers an optimally sized eyebox, so that it is easy to just pick up your headset, stick it on, and start playing without having to spend time adjusting for your head size and pupil position,” he says. “In addition, we can offer a large field of view, combining a large 3D holographic region and an even wider 2D area at the periphery of the display, resulting in a very immersive experience.

Overcoming the impossible

Accomplishing this goal meant first understanding the limitations and then working out how to work around them. “Once we’d identified that path, our multidisciplinary team of researchers and engineers across optics and software set about solving each one in turn. Instead of seeing this as just an optics issue, our solution is based on hardware and software tuned to work in tandem,” says Durrant.

After the theoretical breakthrough, VividQ was able to prove the theory with an off-the-shelf waveguide. However, to realize the full capability, it needed to work with a partner capable of developing something that worked to its exact specifications, which is where Dispelix excels.

For an untethered AR headset solution, challenges remain around power and compute, which have an impact on comfort, size, and the duration for which a consumer can play with such a device. However, these issues do not have to be overcome in order for AR to start having an impact on gaming. “The first-generation devices can be connected physically to a PC or console, which enables consumers to make greater use of the high computing power available from modern GPUs,” says Durrant. “Looking to subsequent generations, devices will be untethered, allowing consumers to use them around the house and even outside, kickstarting the AR gaming market. We’ve overcome a major technical challenge, so now world-leading OEMs and ODMs can start working with our technology stack to bring compelling products and experiences to market.

About the Author

Peter Fretty | Market Leader/Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military

Peter Fretty began his role as the Market Leader, Laser & Military in June 2023; the group encompasses the Laser Focus World, Military & Aerospace Electronics, and Vision Systems Design brands. He also serves as Group Editorial Director, Laser & Military (effective spring 2023) and served as Editor in Chief of Laser Focus World since October 2021. Prior to that, he was Technology Editor for IndustryWeek for two years.

As a highly experienced journalist, he has regularly covered advances in manufacturing, information technology, and software. He has written thousands of feature articles, cover stories, and white papers for an assortment of trade journals, business publications, and consumer magazines.

Sponsored Recommendations

Request a quote: Micro 3D Printed Part or microArch micro-precision 3D printers

April 11, 2024
See the results for yourself! We'll print a benchmark part so that you can assess our quality. Just send us your file and we'll get to work.

Request a Micro 3D Printed Benchmark Part: Send us your file.

April 11, 2024
See the results for yourself! We'll print a benchmark part so that you can assess our quality. Just send us your file and we'll get to work.

Request a free Micro 3D Printed sample part

April 11, 2024
The best way to understand the part quality we can achieve is by seeing it first-hand. Request a free 3D printed high-precision sample part.

How to Tune Servo Systems: The Basics

April 10, 2024
Learn how to tune a servo system using frequency-based tools to meet system specifications by watching our webinar!

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Laser Focus World, create an account today!