As multiple companies work toward commercializing consumer AR glasses, it’s becoming clear that miniaturizing and reducing the power drain of the core technologies are the key challenges still facing designers today. U.K.-based display maker WaveOptics hopes to move the industry forward with a new visual solution, Katana, which it notes is the lightest and thinnest waveguide display available, though it’s limited by a relatively narrow field of view.
Compared with WaveOptics’ earlier Vulcan and Odin waveguides, Katana is considerably lighter — 7 grams versus 12 and 17 grams, respectively — as well as thinner, at 1.15mm thickness compared with 3.1mm or 2.65mm. Katana also promises a full-color display with a 30-degree field of view. That’s on the small side compared with Vulcan (28-40 degrees) and Odin (60 degrees), to say nothing of emergent competing solutions. The original HoloLens had a sub-35-degree field of view, and its sequel HoloLens 2 has a 52-degree field of view measured diagonally.
Field of view matters because the “augmented” area of a lens appears like a translucent window overlaid across reality. If you move your head, the augmented window moves too, sort of like placing a postage stamp on an envelope. All things being equal, the larger the field of view, the more convincingly something can be augmented regardless of your head’s position.
According to WaveOptics, Katana is ideally suited to lightweight, low-cost, and low-power smart glasses, but compared to Vulcan, might be best for “just notification-based use cases” rather than more complex augmentation. Odin is made to extend AR into your peripheral vision, assuming you can live with the extra weight and thickness the glasses will require.
“Katana is pushing the boundaries of what’s possible for augmented reality headsets, bringing mass market ambitions closer to reality,” WaveOptics CEO David Hayes explained. “As the thinnest full-color waveguide now available on the market, Katana enables our customers to design new products that can meet the performance expectations of a wider range of consumers, and we can help them do that at the right price point.”
WaveOptics will be working with German glassmaker Schott to commercialize Katana, using Schott’s RealView glass wafers in the design. It’s unclear at this stage when solutions with Katana will be available in the marketplace, but the companies claim that the waveguide will be both affordable and mass manufacturable.