DigiLens, a California-based startup assembling displays for augmented reality (AR) devices, today published that it’s closed a $50 million oversubscribed series C round led by Universal Display Corporation’s UDC Ventures, Samsung, Pokémon Go creator Niantic, Continental AG, Sony Innovation Fund, and Mitsubishi’s Diamond Edge Ventures. It further than doubled the Sunnyvale, California-based company’s prior $22 million increase in January 2017, and it brings DigiLens’ venture capital haul to date to over $100 million.
CEO Chris Pickett said the new 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.
The Prime product of DigiLens is a holographic Wave guide display carrying a thin-film, laser-etched Photopolymer set with microscopic holograms of mirror-like optics. A micro-display is projected into one end of the lens and the optics utilize the light wave, guiding it through the surface before a different set of optics turn it back toward the eye.
DigiLens refined this method nearly ten years ago, it says, when it was collaborating with Rockwell Collins to design avionic HUD systems for the U.S. military. More recently, the company devised a Photopolymer material and holographic copy process that allows it to produce Diffractive optics with printers, which tend to be cheaper than conventional precision-etching machines.
“UDC Ventures and Samsung Ventures have recognized through this investment that DigiLens is the Frontrunner in Wave guide technology and the only Wave guide that can get to a consumer price point through its proprietary Photopolymer, design software, and innovative manufacturing process” stated Pickett.
In January, DigiLens showed 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 Wave guide, which grants a relatively narrow 30-degree field of view but is dramatically cheaper than traditional materials. In fact, DigiLens thinks 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 automobile companies, meanwhile, can produce a holographic Wave guide that’s about a half a meter by 320 millimeters long, or large enough for a car windshield but thick enough to fit under a dashboard. The company says that such displays could generate colored signs to tell drivers where to turn next so that they don’t have to look at their smartphones.
DigiLens doesn’t plan to manufacture and sell AR devices itself. Instead, it aims to license its technology across a range of industries. Toward that end, it’s already formulating nano-materials for transparent, augmented reality (AR) displays for several undisclosed clients.
DigiLens has competition in TruLife Optics, wave optics, and Colorado-based Akonia Holographics, the latter of which paid a decade (and $100 million) unsuccessfully attempting holographic storage before turning to displays. while Wave Optics raised $26 million last December to gear up for the launch of its low-cost AR hardware product lineup.
But Pickett assumes 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 delighted to partner with DigiLens as they proceed to focus on allowing a number of large growth markets with their licensed holographic Wave guide displays,” said Steven V. "
Abramson Universal Display Corporation president and CEO, who will become a board advisor as part of the venture.
“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 Wave guide producer Young Optics of Taiwan; ODM and electronics supplier Malta of China; and Pico display manufacturer Sekonix of Korea, whose modules leverage Texas Instruments DLP Pico products. Through strategic cooperation with Mitsubishi Chemical, it’s producing a plastic material for “high refractive” Wave guide 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 said to Venture Beat in a prior interview.