Not Worse Than Microsoft: Smart Glass Modules Created in Minsk
Put on your glasses – and navigating instructions or handy tips will be superimposed onto real-life objects. It is possible in case the glasses are "smart", i.e. they enable the augmented reality technology. Currently the world's largest companies like Apple and Microsoft take interest in this. R&D is going on in Minsk as well: "Izovac Augmented Reality" - a company which is working on video modules for smart glasses. Developers believe - in a couple of years the high tide will come to the augmented reality market, and they will have a lot to show.
"We have a result that we can demonstrate"
— We are working primarily on the optical device – the video module, - explains Vitali Khomich
, the project's chief commercial officer. – This is a core component of the glasses, helmet or any other final product. Design of the final product also matters to us to a certain extent, but its "heart" is our priority.
However, without a prototype of good glasses we cannot enter the market, that is why we plan to create glasses of our own. Hopefully, in six to twelve months we will be able to demonstrate actual glasses. At the moment we are developing the technology step by step, and have already produced several prototypes, so we have a result to showcase.
The developers present one of the prototypes of the device. It features a small LCoS display
that transmits the image to a unique waveguide. The demo video and everything around is quite clearly visible.
One of the prototypes of the video module
Developers explain that the waveguide is produced using a patented technology. This prototype allows to see a full-color picture with the resolution of 800×480 pixels. The module's main advantage is the brightness of the image that reaches 1500 cd/m2, same as top-level TV-sets. As a comparison, the maximum brightness of the screen of iPhone X stands at 625 cd/m2.
— Brightness is a common challenge for the market, says Artem Artamonov, the project's chief technical officer. – It takes a lot to "overlight" the bright sunlight. We work with thin film and optical coating at a high level and can significantly improve the contrast ratio.
With the help of electrochromic coating brighter areas of the image are darkened, which enables the user to see the picture clearly, in bright colors and good contrast. We have special hydrophobic and oleophobic coating that securely protects the front part of the glasses from dirt, scratches and fingerprints. Low temperature will not result in frosting, and the inner part will not fog up
Draft prototype of smart glasses
Presently, less than ten people are working on the project. Its main investor is Izovac Group of Companies, which specializes in thin film technologies. The augmented reality project was brought to life by its R&D team and has now evolved into a stand-alone company that has recently established residency in the Belarus High-Tech Park (HTP).
"Samsung and Apple Are Our Potential Partners"
The augmented reality technology has not reached mass scale yet. However, at the moment several large global companies are developing it in parallel with each other. In 2016 Microsoft introduced HoloLens – augmented reality glasses for developers. They are not available to broader public yet. Lumus, an Israeli company, is also working on its own devices. Apple is actively promoting augmented reality applications for smartphone cameras.
Belarusian developers are going to work mostly in B2B (Business to Business) sphere. They plan to supply video modules to other companies that will manufacture the final product.
— Samsung, Apple, Huawei, companies that already are dealing with this area, are our potential partners. – Vitali contemplates. – The market for AR offers is huge. However, there are 5 or 6 companies in the world, including us, that managed to make a prototype that operates normally and is able to produce an image. There are no ready-made products available on the market. What Microsoft Hololens or Lumus offers are prototypes, too, the only difference being that they invested in assembling all that into glasses they now demonstrate. Nevertheless, in terms of image quality and technological advancement we stand at the same level.
Google also attempted to produce its own smart glasses. In 2014 Google Glass became available to the public, and in 2015 the company announced project closure. The reason behind it might have been the fact that they targeted mass audience. The users were actively complaining about each and every flaw, for instance, about being unable to see through the glasses if one looked at the sun.
— Such companies as Google make money from the mass market, - Vitali believes. — B2B diminishes certain things that mass consumers do not like, say, if the white color is not white enough. Functionality is of greater importance, as well as the way the product enables us to solve concrete tasks, improves productivity and helps the company save money.
Developers hold the opinion that the augmented reality technology will boom in 3 to 4 years: "The technology is ripening at the moment. It will find use in numerous spheres: industry, medicine, education, sports, rescue and military operations, as well as entertainment and games. These are technologies that we see in movies today: for instance, the Iron Man's head display.
At the moment it is hard to tell where the technology will become most successful. So far, we can only imagine surgeons seeing the arterial system in their glasses, or soldiers that receive instructions straight through their smart helmets.
Belarusian developers promise to show a fully-fledged model of glasses to demonstrate the video module in the first half of the next year.