With everyone from Apple to the Xrai announcing augmented reality glasses or rumors of their entry into space, the chatter is loud enough to throw angrily into the library. It seems like every company is working on some form of headset, goggles, mask or goggles to bring the digital world into your field of vision. And after meeting Lumus, everyone is just playing around.
In a hotel room on the third floor of The Venetian Hotel on Thursday, day one of CES 2023, I saw the company’s Z-Lens architecture, which I’d call the future of augmented reality glasses. It simply took my breath away.
I’ve worn every headset under the sun at this point, including models from Sony, HTC, and Microsoft, and glasses from Magic Leap, Lenovo, and everyone in between. And all of them are somewhere between average and disappointing: They’re heavy objects with wires, heavy straps that weigh down on the forehead, or have limited fields of view, hampered by their own design. Or it simply doesn’t work well.
On the other hand, Lumus makes a lens that is nothing short of perfection. or a waveguide I should say, the technical term for projecting an image onto glasses that are in front of, or on, your face.
“There are two waveguides,” Dave Goldman, vice president of marketing for Israeli company Lumos, told me. “One is called breaking, and that’s the others. And I mean everyone else, I’m talking about some of the internal teams at Tier 1 companies as well as every competitor of Lumus right now.”
This includes, for example, the Nreal Air and VITURE One XR glasses – and the brand new TCL RayNeo X2 glasses. Goldman uses a different technology, reflector waveguides, which allow for considerably brighter images and more efficient waveguides, which means lower energy solutions. This means the lenses are thin enough and bright enough to fit over regular eyeglasses. The Z-Lens image is generated by a projector unit mounted in the frame; It has an LED screen, an LCOS, and a prism. Light from the projector is sent to the waveguide, where two sets of mirrors built into the lens expand that image to fill your field of view. So mirrors, they are all mirrors. Really, really smart mirrors.
To try them on, Goldman gave me a pair of blue Buddy Holly-style glasses with elastic wrap-around cords sticking out from each temple. I wear them – they are light and feel very much like regular glasses. And there, hovering before my eyes, was a perfectly legible, bright, crystal clear grid with images and text—a simple demonstration of what the Lumus Z-Lens can do.
Using a laptop connected, he did some demonstrations: some characters from Sesame Street, some mock-ups, and an animated video of a steampunk flying blimp flying around, zooming in from a distance. Everything works flawlessly, bright enough to be visible in normal sunlight, clear enough to see through, and completely invisible to anyone looking at me.
The reality of augmented reality
The glasses of the future, whether augmented, virtual, or mixed reality, will take a variety of forms when they finally ship sometime in the near future (18 to 24 months is my best guess, though who knows what Apple will do). Some of them will be immersive headsets that lean toward virtual reality; Others will be pass-through devices that capture reality and interweave it with the digital effects of an entirely new reality. Some of them will be everyday wearables that offer “snackable” data: directions to the mall for pedestrians, pace and heart rate for athletes, information on songs and artists for audiophiles, and so on.
This last category is the most interesting to me: a simple overlay of information that can populate your world with data and inform your actions…and can be ignored if you choose. I’d put Lumus in this category: the Z-Lens waveguide architecture isn’t as immersive as VR, and it doesn’t (for now anyway) map out the world around it and put virtual objects in there. But he applies things to reality, and that creates some really interesting choices.
For augmented reality glasses to truly make an impact in the consumer market, they need to be impressive both functionally and aesthetically. And let’s be clear, augmented reality glasses that look like regular glasses can change this whole space. But displaying images that can be viewed outside requires a clear, bright, sharp, and full of color image, and this is a real technical hurdle. The Hololens’ photos look good, but the hardware isn’t great. While Magic Leap or Nreal are more wearable, the visuals aren’t great. Lumos breaks the mold.
The contest: We’re testing the TCL RayNeo X2
The TCL RayNeo X2 glasses share similarities with other augmented reality glasses, such as the Nreal Air glasses and the VITURE One XR. But these lenses are equipped with a pair of Micro-LED optical waveguide screens that provide the wearer with a personal head-up display, and in the stems of the glasses you’ll find speakers so you can hear sound through them, too. Read more
The company’s breakthrough is startlingly simple: better mirrors, etched into a coating attached to the lens of the glass itself, reflect an image directly into your eye. The latest Lumus models use multiple mirrors to refract the crisp, clear images your eye sees hovering right in front of you. The new model, unveiled at CES, uses a smaller display unit than previous generations, allowing the company to make even smaller glasses. Lumus can also stick the lenses directly to your eyeglasses, kind of like extra light-sensitive coatings you might get.
Embedded in the technology is the element of privacy: Because mirrors are designed to refract light in a way that makes it more visible to the wearer’s eye, other people won’t be able to see what you see. So, pull out these lecture cheat sheets or notes about your next interview… no one else will know you’re looking at them.
The company claims a resolution of 2K x 2K and a brightness of 3,000 nits, which allows you to view images from the projector in normal daylight. I was stuck in a hotel room, but the photos were clearly bright enough for daylight.
So when will we see this?
Goldman told me that Lumos is in talks with major tech players, though he declined to name names. The company has huge manufacturing partnerships established. Quanta Computer (which makes the Apple Watch and Macbook Pro, among other products) has a full line set up in Taipei. And Schott, the German glass company, has a production line set up in Panang, Malaysia.
But we won’t see Lumus on the market anytime soon. We expect it sometime in 2024, he said, and it’s likely as a unibody at first. Either way, get ready to have your mind blown, too. This is really the future.
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