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DigiLens has raised funding from Samsung Electronics in a round that values the augmented reality smart glasses makers at more than $500 million.

Sunnyvale, California-based DigiLens did not say the exact amount it raised for the development of its extended reality glasses (XR), which will offer AR features, such as overlaying digital images on what you see.

DigiLens CEO Chris Pickett said in a previous interview with VentureBeat that the latest smart glasses are more advanced than models the company showed in 2019.

DigiLens’ premiere product is a holographic waveguide display containing a thin-film, laser-etched photopolymer embedded with microscopic holograms of mirror-like optics. A micro-display is projected into one end of the lens and the optics turn the light wave, guiding it through the surface before another set of optics turn it back toward the eye.

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DigiLens refined this technique more than a decade ago when it was collaborating with Rockwell Collins to create avionic heads-up display (HUD) systems for the U.S. military. More recently, the company devised a photopolymer material and holographic copy process that enables it to produce diffracting optics with printers, which tend to be cheaper than traditional precision-etching machines.

DigiLens has competition in TruLife Optics, WaveOptics, and Colorado-based Akonia Holographics.

Joining Samsung Electronics in the funding are Samsung Electro-Mechanics, Diamond Edge Ventures, the strategic investment arm of Mitsubishi Chemical Holdings Corporation, Alsop Louie Partners, 37 Interactive Entertainment, UDC Ventures, the corporate venture arm of Universal Display Corporation, Dolby Family Ventures, and others.

DigiLens' Design v1 is a modular prototype.

Above: DigiLens’ Design v1 is a modular prototype.

Image Credit: DigiLens

A second close is scheduled to be completed near the end of 2021 to allow other strategic investors to join this definitive fundraising round.

“Today’s announcement helps establish DigiLens as the front-runner in the race to develop the core optical technologies that are essential to deploying smart glass augmented reality (AR) and extended reality (XR) devices at scale,” said Pickett, in a statement. “The waveguide display optics are the most difficult and important step in developing head worn hardware. We’re excited to be working with Samsung Electronics during this next critical step of the category creation process. Samsung’s innovative nature and proven track record of manufacturing mobile
devices at a global scale will unlock value for the whole industry. Bringing smartglasses to market will require an ecosystem approach in order to hit the timelines, volumes, and cost structure required for consumer devices. This funding round puts the necessary pieces in place to finally bring enterprise and consumer smartglasses to market at a realistic price point.”

Extended reality (XR) devices are poised to be the next mobile device and a once in a generation strategic inflection point in computing, the company said. XR has profound applications and potential uses in a broad array of sectors ranging from industry to medicine, education, and entertainment. XR is the next evolutionary step in computing from laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Extended reality is an umbrella term that includes virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) devices. VR creates an immersive experience that transports users from the physical world to a virtual one.

AR provides a digital overlay on the physical world for a more “hands-free” experience, while MR includes elements of both. DigiLens is one of the de facto optical standards for smart glass experiences because its technology provides the best balance of thin, lightweight, high performance, low cost, and highly manufacturable waveguide displays for AR smartglasses. DigiLens’ proprietary photopolymer and holographic contact copy manufacturing process are more cost-effective and scalable than other waveguide solutions on the market, enabling smaller, lighter, thinner, brighter, and more efficient lenses.

“At Samsung, we develop and innovate technologies that provide unmatched value for our global customers and enable experiences that go beyond what they expect. We are very pleased to invest in and collaborate with DigiLens to prepare differentiated and competitive AR devices,” said Hark Sang Kim, executive vice president at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “I’m pleased to be joining the Board of Directors at DigiLens, and I’m committed to strengthening the close bond between our two companies.”

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