DigiLens, a Sunnyvale, California-based startup developing displays for augmented reality (AR) devices, today announced that it’s closed a $50 million oversubscribed series C round led by Universal Display Corporation’s UDC Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Pokémon Go creator Niantic, Continental AG, Sony Innovation Fund, and Mitsubishi’s Diamond Edge Ventures. It more than doubled the Sunnyvale, California-based company’s previous $22 million raise in January 2017, and it brings DigiLens’ venture capital haul to date to over $100 million.
CEO Chris Pickett said the fresh capital will fuel the development of its display technology for automobile, enterprise, consumer, avionics and military brands. “These partnerships provide the ecosystem that enables our technology to go into a variety of different [displays] in a variety of different form factors,” he added.
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.
DigiLens refined this technique nearly ten years ago, it says, when it was collaborating with Rockwell Collins to create avionic HUD systems for the U.S. military. More recently, the company devised a photopolymer material and holographic copy process that enables it to produce diffractive optics with printers, which tend to be cheaper than traditional precision-etching machines.
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“UDC Ventures and Samsung Ventures have recognized through this investment that DigiLens is the frontrunner in waveguide technology and the only waveguide that can get to a consumer price point through its proprietary photopolymer, design software, and innovative manufacturing process,” said Pickett.
In January, DigiLens demonstrated its Crystal AR prototype, a glasses-like form factor that connects via a USB-C to a smartphone, computing puck, laptop, or desktop. It weighs in at half a pound and uses two layers for the full-color waveguide, which offers a relatively narrow 30-degree field of view but is dramatically cheaper than conventional materials. In fact, DigiLens believes products like Crystal AR could one day sell for $500, or roughly five to 10 times less than rival heads-up displays on the market like the Magic Leap One Creator Edition or Microsoft HoloLens.
DigiLens’ white label solution for car companies, meanwhile, can create a holographic waveguide that’s about a half a meter by 320 millimeters long, or large enough for a car windshield but compact enough to fit under a dashboard. The company says that such displays could generate colored arrows to tell drivers where to turn next, so that they don’t have to look at their phones.
DigiLens doesn’t intend to manufacture and sell AR devices itself. Instead, it intends to license its technology across a range of industries. Toward that end, it’s already creating nanomaterials for transparent, augmented reality (AR) displays for several undisclosed clients.
DigiLens has competition in TruLife Optics, WaveOptics, and Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, the latter of which spent a decade (and $100 million) unsuccessfully pursuing holographic storage before pivoting to displays. For its part, WaveOptics raised $26 million last December to gear up for the launch of its low-cost AR hardware product lineup.
But Pickett anticipates that products incorporating DigiLens’ technology will beat most — if not all — others to market. It’s targeting late 2019, with additional launches expected in 2020 and 2022.
“We are excited to partner with DigiLens as they continue to focus on enabling a number of high growth markets with their patented holographic waveguide displays,” said Universal Display Corporation president and CEO Steven V. Abramson, who will become a board advisor as part of the investment. “With parallels to our own business, we look forward to working together to bring best-in-class solutions to multiple industries and to collaborate on the future of OLED technology within the augmented and virtual reality display sector.”
DigiLens says it’s currently working with licensed waveguide manufacturer Young Optics of Taiwan; ODM and electronics supplier Malata of China; and pico display manufacturer Sekonix of Korea, whose modules leverage Texas Instruments DLP Pico products. Through a strategic partnership with Mitsubishi Chemical, it’s developing a plastic material for “high refractive” waveguide displays that it expects will be lighter, less expensive, and “nearly unbreakable.”
“We are building our infrastructure, so we can enter multiple markets at the same time,” Pickett told VentureBeat in a previous interview.
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