In my hand, mere inches away from my face, I am grasping a tiny elephant. I turn my hand upside down and all of a sudden there is a flame above my hand.
It does not smolder me. Since it is a virtual image displayed through a
new type of headset prototype built by Avegant.
I flip my hand over again and I see a syringe a few inches above my hand. It plunges into my palm and in turn I physically shrink away.
I am spontaneously responding to a computer image merely a few inches away from my eyes which is an enormous leverage to the Avegant’s light field technology.
Here’s everything you need to grasp.
Avegant is a four-year-old Belmont, California based startup. Avegant is a blend of the names of the founders–Edward Tang and Allan Evans. It creates displays for holographic or “mixed reality” headsets.
The Glyph was the first product unveiled in 2013.The Glyph is a head-mounted display specifically employed for personal entertainment viewing. Also known as Personal Video Headset, Glyph uses virtual retinal display as its patented technology. In layman’s sense, the company came up with a way to shine videos directly into your eyeballs.
Avegant’s Light Field Display
Last month, the company announced its transparent Light Field Display technology. This is a remarkable breakthrough in the optics systems as many tech experts see as the next upswing the field of personal computing.
Mixed reality (MR) allows the users to view digital images alongside real objects through a transparent visor. Also known as augmented reality, this technology can integrate computer graphics and the internet with the real world.
Examples of this technology include Microsoft’s HoloLens and Alphabet-backed Magic Leap, as well as headsets created by start-ups including ODG and Meta.
Recently, Apple and Facebook enlisted the contest to build augmented reality glasses. They bet these mixed reality glasses can replace smartphone as consumers’ primary computing tool.
The biggest challenge is developing an optics system that is compact and needs little power, so ensuring portability, but which is still capable of producing bright and vivid images.
Avegant’s prototype mixed reality system uses a headband to locate the display. An IBM Windows PC with an Intel i7 processor drives the system and an Nvidia graphics card runs the Unity game engine.
A standard micro-mirror display gives back light straight at the person viewing it. However, the light field images are projected at different angles. Due to which, this resembles the way light in the real world reflects off objects to hit a person’s eyes.
This enables the human eye to focus on different virtual objects with ease in relation to each other, something it cannot do in the flat panels used by virtual reality (VR) headsets. Technically, it is termed as multi-focal approach.
Magic leap of invention
To date, most attempts to bring light field technology into head-mounted displays have involved tricky-to-manufacture technology like deform-able mirrors or liquid lenses, or approaches that take huge amounts of computing power to operate, like stacked LCDs.
In this new method, it has no mechanical parts and uses existing manufacturing capabilities, with a level of computation that isn’t particularly high. It can run on standard PCs with graphics cards or mobile chip sets.
The graphics effects are natural. So virtual objects resemble in the same way as real objects, with no eye strain caused from struggling to focus.
Light Field’ type display is the first consumer-minded model. Finished prototype of this model is quite far. However, it gives early glimpse at a display technology that will combine digital holograms with the rest of the physical world.
Avegant Vs Magic Leap
Ingenious Express analysis found that the content showcased in Avegant’s demo video was essentially claimed by the Florida-based company, Magic Leap (ML) to do in terms of focus planes/light-fields with accommodation.
In the demo video, even the way of holding objects in the hand is a commonality between the two companies. Magic Leap gives demos in which a person holds a fairy or a tiny robot assistant, and one of its promotional videos from 2014 shows a pair of hands holding a tiny elephant.
Ingenious Express analysis also found that there exists few big differences between the two companies aside from the amount of money they have raised. Avegant and Magic Leap have raised $37 million and $1.4 billion to finance the development of a light-field headset.
Avegant’s Future Plan
Avegant’s strategy is to license its technology to other hardware makers who are looking to get into head-mounted displays. This technology will become available in the commercial space by 2018 and later followed by consumer versions.
Avegant’s grander vision is that it’s this kind of technology that will make head-mounted displays so good, that they will eventually replace our smartphones.
Fund raising strategy
To achieve its vision, Avegant has raised $13.7m in the latest round, which closed in March. This round is an extension of the $24m it already raised in its Series B in 2015, which had been led by Hangzhou Lian Luo, the Chinese mobile internet company. Alongside existing investors, including chip-maker Intel, the new funding comes from Applied Materials, a provider of equipment used to manufacture semiconductors and displays.
While it’s unclear what the time tables look like for light field tech, the space is about to get a whole lot more exciting as tech titans continue to pour money into the cause of beaming the future into your eyeballs.