Keeping a Watchful Eye on Head-Mounted Display Technology

Keeping a Watchful Eye on Head-Mounted Display Technology

Head-mounted displays (HMDs) for virtual, augmented and mixed reality (VR, AR and MR) are exciting and have potential for a variety of applications but there is still a lot of room for improvement, especially with the display technology.

Pundits say the ideal VR experience would be similar to Star Trek’s holodeck, while the ideal AR experience is similar to R2-D2’s projection of Princess Leia in Star Wars Episode IV. But the reality is that neither of those options are feasible with today’s technology.

Existing HMDs use an optical combiner to mix computer-generated content (either animated or camera-based) with the real world to create an augmented (or mixed) reality.

However, the computer-generated content is rendered on a fixed focal plane, generally out of arm’s reach. When you walk up close to a virtual object, fixed-focus displays are unable to change the focus of the virtual object in a way that matches the real world. This focal mismatch between the real world and the virtual object breaks the illusion and might even make your eyes feel uncomfortable. If you’re trying to hold a virtual Pokémon in your hands, for example, the focus of the Pokémon and your palm have to match, otherwise it won’t appear real.

To fix this problem, the industry needs HMDs that can change the focus of virtual objects, so they match the real world. Before augmented and mixed reality can become ubiquitous, some major advances in near-eye display technology will need to happen.

Applied Ventures, the venture capital arm of Applied Materials, actively invests in early-stage companies around the globe that are developing new technologies to push capabilities and manufacturing potential beyond the cutting edge. Investing in disruptive startups gives us a seat at the table to shape and participate in the industry roadmap, and this is true today for virtual, augmented and mixed reality.

One area we are particularly interested in is the digital light processing (DLP) display of the HMD. These devices require advanced, very high-resolution displays – like Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCOS) and OLED – driven by high-performance logic, GPUs, image processors and sensors. Many VR, AR and MR companies are looking for 10-100nm thin films with high-precision deposition and etch requirements – where Applied has industry-leading expertise; making us a natural partner for the development of these display technologies.

Applied Ventures recently invested in Avegant, a technology company developing next-generation light field displays. With its Light Field Technology, Avegant is attempting to solve the troublesome focal mismatch issue by using multiple light fields – separate digital focal planes – to create 3D images. The eye naturally shifts between objects at different field “distances,” keeping each virtual object in focus, just like real objects and without the nausea.

We are excited about working with Avegant and other companies in this space to deliver the kinds of virtual, augmented and mixed reality experiences people want.

To learn more about Light Field Technology, check out Avegant’s video below.

If you’re interested in working with Applied Ventures and taking your disruptive technology to the next level, send us a note at applied_ventures@amat.com. We’d love to hear your ideas.

Introducing Avegant Light Field - Full Video from Avegant on Vimeo.

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