DigiLens Raises $22 Million For Consumer-Focused Augmented Reality Products

by John Gaudiosi • January 19th, 2017

DigiLens raised an additional $22 million in a Series B investment round from Sony, Foxconn, Continental and Panasonic, along with venture investors including Alsop Louie Partners, Bold Capital, Nautilus Venture Partners and Dolby Family Ventures.

Gilman Louie, founder and managing director of Alsop Louie Partners, said the next generation display technology will be glass.

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“Data on glass is a critical capability for augmented and mixed reality applications such as gaming, navigation, telepresence, education, industrial, medical and military,” Louie said. “Data on glass is being revolutionized by DigiLens’ full-color and wide field of view optics and AR-HUD breakthroughs.”

Jonathan Waldern, founder and CEO of DigiLens, told UploadVR his company will leverage these strategic relationships to bring to market several augmented reality displays and sensors for enterprise, consumer and transportation applications.

“The round is relatively modest and within that context, we already have these partnerships in place and the contractual agreements go beyond the investments,” Waldern said. “The key point is this helps us with the generic expansion of our business, but it also leaves us in a strong financial position to be alongside these new AR products over the longer term.”

DigiLens will make a “modest increase” in engineering staffing, but the company is also benefiting from the strategic relationships with these partners.

“We’re working on the partner development teams already and that opportunity is priceless in allowing us to push forward with AR technology and displays,” Waldern said.

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Waldern said DigiLens has been developing the optical materials and processes to manufacture precision diffractive optics by photographically printing (not etching) the nanostructures. These electrically “Switchable Bragg Gratings” (SBG) allow for a higher efficiency and a wider field of view display in addition to the “printable” manufacturing benefit, according to the company.

“We started off in the aerospace head-up display (HUD) area and bootstrapped the company by developing material for aerospace and military applications,” Waldern said. “Having brought that to market and revolutionized the form factor of the AeroHUD with Rockwell Collins, last year we moved on to applying this technology to auto HUD applications.”

A conventional automobile HUD uses refracted objects like mirrors and lenses. That takes up a lot of space. For example, the projection system in the BMW 7 Series consumes over nine liters of space. Using its diffractive waveguide optics, the company slimmed the HUD down to a small form factor plate that offers a 15 degree to 20 degree field of view versus the standard 7 degree or 8 degrees.

“The HUD is the central human-computer interface and when you look at the instruments and dials on dashboards that have been around for hundreds of years, it’s obvious we need to move on,” Waldern said. “Having a full color HUD will harness the value of all those safety devices for the user and provide instant feedback to the driver.”

Both Continental, which is a top HUD supplier for many car companies, and Panasonic, which has a huge radio and cockpit instrumentation business with companies like GM and Tesla, will help distribute DigiLens’ technology.

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“We believe augmented reality HUDs will not only enhance driver safety, but also accelerate automated driving acceptance by enhancing the driver’s confidence in what the car actually sees and knows,” said Helmut Matschi, head of the interior division at Continental, in a prepared statement. “The large AR-HUD display will help keep drivers safe by putting critical travel information at eye level and allowing them to see what the robot car sees.”

Waldern said it will be a few years before this Auto-HUD technology hits the consumer market because of strong regulatory and safety tests and procedures.

Looking even further ahead as autonomous cars become more mainstream, Walderns believes AR technology will play an important role in giving consumers confidence in handing the control of the vehicle over to a robot.

“Auto manufacturers are seeing a wide field of AR-HUD as an important confidence booster in providing visual feedback that the robot car is in control,” Waldern said. “Graphics will change on the HUD as it detects various things around you like a truck in your blind spot. Graphics reinforcement can make the transition from driver to car and back more seamless.”

After partnering with BMW last year on MotoHUD, DigiLens is preparing a roll out for its AR helmet technology in the second half of 2017. That technology brings the full instrumentation of the motorcycle into the field of view of the driver so he or she can theoretically do everything from take phone calls to play Pokemon Go while driving, although Waldern doesn’t recommend playing video games on the road.

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“We’re seeing electric bikes and scooters coming through that will need these helmets, so it’s not just for motorcycles,” Waldern said.

DigiLens’ is also working on EyeHUD, which is an eyeglass version of the technology in a small form factor for AR smartglasses.

“We’re teaming with Sony in the wearable smartglass market because their group has been working on this for 10 years now,” Waldern said. “Sony showed Tom Hanks wearing AR glasses at CES five years ago. They have a clear corporate dedication to this technology.”

Hiroshi Mukawa, general manager of the AR Eyeglass Program at Sony, said in a prepared statement the use of DigiLens waveguide technology will help in developin cutting-edge lenses that are much thinner and more transparent than any smart glass on the market today. FoxConn is interested in eyeglass displays for next generation mobile devices, but Waldern said they’re also interested in how they can advance productivity through robotics in manufacturing.

“Augmented reality is a challenge, in part, because the devices are restrained by the laws of physics and not Moore’s Law,” said G. Chen, CTO at Foxconn, in a prepared statement. “We think diffractive optics holds the key to AR, but writing millions of tiny optic structures is best done photographically, using nano self-assembly, not expensive precision etching like HoloLens. We need to break the manufacturing price barrier. With DigiLens waveguide diffractive optics, they seem to have overcome the most nagging technical problems and we see a very bright future for them.”

Over the next couple years DigiLens AR technology will impact both the consumer and enterprise markets across multiple sectors.

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  • Constantin S

    Awesome!

  • artishev

    About DigiLens BMW smart motohelmet. I understand DigiLens want to use my ideas.
    But may be in the next life?

    At this moment DigiLens created solution for BMW smart helmet, which can’t pass certification. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/f40f066c39b59d291702961f3c2eb5290d7e9561dd8132fada2a3ff89a41fa30.jpg Oh, thats interesting!

    • user

      which of your copyrights do they infringe?

      • artishev

        Eight years ago Andrew Artishchev engaged in the integration of audio and video plugins to the major websites in Spirit DSP company. In 2008 he came to the conference icamp. There Andrew first heard about what augmented reality is. One of its examples — aviation helmets for military pilots. Andrew Artishchev thought that augmented reality has been already created for motorcyclists and wanted to test this helmet.

        “Back in my days, when I was a biker, I understood the need to navigate, safely with Augmented reality. Aviation helmets will not be found in the open market as they are military equipment, and motorcycle helmets with augmented reality should be on sale because I was sure that these helmets already existed – the idea is obvious!

        To my surprise when I visited a motorbike shop in Moscow, the sales staff there did not even understand what I was saying -“where are the helmets, with navigation and projection using augmented reality?”

        “What is augmented reality? First I heard about all this” was the response!

        I tried to look for a helmet with augmented reality on the Internet and I have not found any mention of this product, not found in English (then I thought that such projects are certainly created in Silicon Valley – technology center of the world) nor in Chinese , and even Japanese. I thought that if it’s not created in the United States and China, the country’s Robots and aliens – Japan must have these helmets.

        Then there were several grants from the state of Russia — from Fund of assistance to development of small business in scientific-technical sphere, from the Department of industry of Moscow city and “SKOLKOVO” Fund. The government does not give money without private co-funding, so that amount equal to the grants Andrew invested himself, from his personal savings, personal loans and revenues from another of his projects – an electronic posture corrector “Posture Master” ( a very popular gadget in Russia, which has sold around 30,000 pieces and started, in 2015, being exported to Australia, Israel and the European Union).

        History of the helmet project is amazing and worthy of adaptation to film, after Andrew Artishchev presented the project Livemap in 2013 on Youtube (the video has gathered more than 800 000 views and resounding success in the press) and at the TechCrunch startup alley San Francisco conference – guys from Silicon Valley decided to copy the idea, in the valley appeared startups Skully and Nuviz, and even BMW has decided to release a smart motohelmet. A few years later in July 2016 it turned out that Skully was a scam, ponzi-scheme where the money of backers which preordered helmets and investors gathered and spent on luxury life of the founders, on vacation in Hawaii, strip clubs, sport cars and sportbikes. Nuviz was not able to make even the prototypes, not departing from his presentation of 3D graphics which was presented on Kickstarter. As for BMW – they decided to make a helmet with the placement of optics over head which is prohibited by the certification requirements and went from the distance.

        This “nut” in the form of helmet was too hard for startups from silicon valley and large BMW corporation. After 3 years Andrew Artishchev was the only player in the subject, becoming a monopolist on the potential market. However, Andrew did not waste time and released the world’s first helmet with projection optics in chinpart and full color HUD (all aviation fighter helmet with optic over head and monocolor) , successfully presented it in summer of 2016 on the following resources: Jalopnik, Digital trends, Outside magazine.

        Why Andrew continues to push forward and achieve success by showing good traction when other projects fail and shut down? The secret of success is perseverance of the Livemap founder and the rule of 10 000 hours – over 8 years Andrew has made a number of prototypes and have gained expertise in the field of projection systems, augmented reality surpassing 10,000 hours.

  • $22 millions a modest investment??

    Anyway, if cars start to auto-pilot, IMHO huds are not that useful… in the long term it has more sense to turn the windshield to a home theater and let people enjoy movies or games.