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Why Your Prescription Glasses Could be the Next Frontier for Augmented Reality Devices

While the power of VR and AR devices is increasing at a staggering rate, one of the real goals – particularly with AR devices – is the desire to shrink them down to a friendly size so that they don’t look out of the ordinary when worn. If AR devices look mainstream, yet deliver the power of even current VR headsets, then they will find a huge market awaits. However, there is also one other factor that will make this market as scalable as manufacturers would like; it needs to allow for frames to take prescription lenses.

Several recent reports are highlighting the need for a growing number of the population to use glasses for everyday activities, and users are getting younger too.  The research suggests that the need for everyday glasses amongst the 13- to 16-year-old age group has doubled over the last ten years, and a much greater density of the population are using glasses to correct their vision overall. Since no one in the world would want to have to carry two sets of glasses, or take off their AR devices to read a menu or street sign, if AR devices cannot be fitted with prescribed lenses then they will lose a lot of their potential daily usage. In short, if people have to regularly swap between AR glasses and their everyday prescription glasses, then AR is going to miss out.

In line with Moore’s Law, micro-electronics are getting progressively smaller while computing power continues to rise. This is a perfect situation for the development of AR devices since people would like to have interesting information and data displayed right in front of their eyes, but probably not in face-furniture that looks like badly-fitting joke glasses at best. But all of that may be about to change with the latest development from German company Tooz, which focuses on the full development of the optical interface – the actual lenses – via the injection moulding process. By using this well-understood process, Tooz can carefully control the shape and form of the resulting lens and ensure that it meets a glasses prescription, while allowing for it to potentially interface with AR systems.

Last year, Tooz partnered with Jade Bird Display, a leading manufacturer in the development and mass-production of microLED displays, to take the development a step further. The combination of JBD’s colour microLED display engine and Tooz’s curved waveguide enables full-colour virtual screens while maintaining a slim, lightweight, and stylish form along with the visual correction of everyday glasses. This combination brings together the opto-electronics with well-manufactured corrective lenses to form the foundations of a Smart platform, and with the microelectronics side of the equation starting to match the size of the frames, real AR is just a whoop away.

In most cases, the manufacturers of smart glass are forced to settle on an optimal balance between the size of the eye-box, the field of view, and the thickness of the lens. The Tooz team is working to break this compromise for future iterations of its AR optics platform by optimising all three parameters at the same time. This includes expanding the field of view while simultaneously making the lens thinner and the eye-box larger, all while maintaining the appearance of a curved lens that is normal in appearance.

AR has been hampered by the fact that the optical engines used were generally simple clear plastic forms that allowed information to be displayed on them, but had zero corrective powers. For many people using them meant either flipping between the AR systems and regular glasses, or simply shunning AR systems altogether. Developing AR to work with prescription-ground glass was seen as being simply too expensive or too difficult, and has been given up by many developers. The Tooz manufacturing route now offers a realistic way of creating lenses to almost any prescription cheaply and accurately, and with the potential for integrating them into AR systems. It now becomes a task for AR systems developers to make their computational systems work with the lenses.

AR has been falling behind when compared with its virtual cousin, but this breakthrough from Tooz is a major step forward in terms of hardware, and we hope to be reporting on the next iteration of AR glasses that really work and are usable by all.