Mixed reality has yet to break through to the mass market but Avegant believes it can make that happen. The Silicon Valley-based company uses light field technology to create the display of the future—an innovation that could be a potential smartphone killer. Outside of SPIE Photonics West, the photonics tech event taking place this week in San Francisco, DirectIndustry e-magazine interviewed Edward Tang, Avegant’s co-founder and CTO.
DirectIndustry e-magazine: What’s the problem with current mixed reality headsets?
Edward Tang: Displays have been the limiting factor in the overall experience of mixed reality. If you want a virtual object to sit in your hand, no available transparent displays can do that because they are fixed focus displays, where the image is focused at a fixed distance from you. If I have a display that’s focused at 2 meters, I can’t show anything closer than that.
DI e-magazine: How did you solve this problem?
Edward Tang: We created a display that can show you images at multiple focal distances at the same time. You can see things close enough to interact with them – for instance hold an object in your hand. We’re the first company to provide light field display technology in the industry.
DI e-magazine: What makes this technology seem more real than traditional mixed reality technology?
Edward Tang: Our display takes the world that’s in front of you and splits it into several focal regions. So when we display images to your eyes through the headset, it will adjust where the focal distance should be and it’s able to do many of these at the same time. Let’s say you’re holding a virtual object in your left hand and one in your right hand and keep them at different distances from yourself. You can now change your focus to the near object and the far object goes out of focus and the other way around.
DI e-magazine: How is that different from competing headsets such as Microsoft HoloLens?
Edward Tang: When you put a HoloLens on and walk up to a virtual object, you notice that the object fades away and disappears when you get to about one meter from it. That is frustrating. Why can’t I interface with it like a keyboard? That’s because I can’t get up close.
DI e-magazine: What are the applications?
Edward Tang: Anything you want to see within a meter. A lot of our users want to do object overlay and take a virtual image or data and paint it on top of another object. If you want to fix a car engine you want the instructions to look like they’re overlaying on an actual part of the engine. Or if we’re having a phone conversation I can talk to you and it looks like you’re sitting next to me.
DI e-magazine: How can this technology change the future of AR and mixed reality?
Edward Tang: I don’t think there is going to be any kind of mass application of mixed reality products until there’s a mass availability of light field technologies. It’s like we invented color TV and everyone still has a black and white TV. When you can replace all of your screens with something that you can wear, that quickly becomes the screen to rule them all. Do I need a smartphone anymore? Or a PC or even a TV? When I have a screen anytime and any size I want, wherever I go, it becomes a very powerful platform. We see it as being the next big transformation of the computer, so the potential is huge.