Will Apple Launch Kopin’s Pupil Optics In Their First Pair Of AR Glasses?

The Consumer Augmented Reality market is still looking for a device that is more than just a technology platform looking for a problem to solve. So far, we have seen a number of AR headsets that are great technology showcases, but do not solve a problem or provide a real benefit Consumers are looking for.

Ask yourself,what problems are the following devices actually solving for Consumers?

  • Magic Leap
  • HoloLens
  • Vuzix Blade

On the contrary, look at the simplicity of the Kopin’s Solos AR device. Solos provides immediate benefits to the athletic user: performance metrics displayed off-axis above or below line-of-sight, audio output for music or coaching cues, and a simple Voice-driven UI. Functionality is limited to only what an athlete needs to provide real and immediate benefit of a heads-up data consumption model. It improves the user’s performance. Below is an image of the Solos HUD display the athlete sees:

Source: Essential Design

When you compare these two very different paths for Consumer AR, it’s pretty clear why complex head-worn AR devices being released just to showcase new optical technology are unlikely to be adopted by Consumers.

How We Believe Apple Enters The AR Smart Glasses Market
Apple has mastered the ability to simplify technology and serve a real Consumer need - whether the user realizes that need yet or not. iPhone is a great example. Apple simplified the smartphone experience and slowly built out functionality as Consumers became more sophisticated in their mobile needs.

Of late, there have been a number of rumours on-line about what type of AR device Apple will bring the Consumer market. Many predictions are focused on a sophisticated Mixed Reality experience similar to what Magic Leap attempts to provide but in a sleek and stylish Apple form factor. We don’t see it quite that way.

We think Apple will launch a device highly focused on real benefits Consumers will value. Apple will seek to satisfy these needs:

  • Connected you. Contextual visual notifications above or below line-of-sight removing the need to glance at an AppleWatch or iPhone in the user’s pocket. The Apple “magic” here will be in the contextual filtering of notifications and their use of AI to do so will be a differentiator.
  • Heads-up and hands-free AR mobility. Apple will enable improved the safety for all consumers by extending the AirPods SIRI Audio AR experience to fashionable spectacles with integrated visual notifications. Again, contextual filtering of all visual and audio AR notifications will be the differentiator.
  • We see Apple evolving the iOS and Siri UI functionality from the iPhone to AppleWatch to AirPods and now to a set of fashionable spectacles. The Apple Smart Glasses will provide the safest and most efficient way to interact with their ecosystem and improve the wearers life.

Now, ask yourself, does Apple need a fully occlusive Optical See-Through AR headset such as what Magic Leap or HoloLens offer to provide these benefits to a Consumer? Absolutely not.

What Apple needs is a discreet AR optical arrangement that has low power consumption, bright enough to operate in bright sunlight, low-cost, and durable enough for Consumer design-in. That optical technology exists today.

If they choose the optical technology we will now explore, a rumoured 2019/2020 launch window for Apple AR Smart Glasses is certainly possible.

Enter Kopin Pupil Optics
Many companies are trying to create transparent lenses called waveguides that will put a transparent image in the primary area of a user’s Field Of View (FOV). The idea is that you would overlay relevant data anywhere in the user’s FOV, kind of like the Hollywood Iron Man version of AR. While a noble and lofty goal, the reality is this form of AR is very hard to accomplish and will likely take years to perfect - if ever!

So, if we can’t use a transparent lens with the AR optics “baked in,” how do we best present information to the user in a heads-up, hands-free fashion? Well, Google Glass uses a form of Optical See-Through AR to create a small transparent window above the user’s line-of-sight providing information to Enterprise workers. While effective, it is far from fashionable and is generally considered unacceptable to consumers.

This is where we get to the unique Kopin Pupil optic. If Apple’s goal is to create a small AR window in a fashionable set of spectacles or sunglasses, Pupil is the optical module we would see them choosing.

Originally designed by Olympus as part of their work in endoscopic surgery, Kopin first licensed, then improved and protected, their IP here as it relates to AR applications. Kopin also recruited the original Pupil inventor away from Olympus and he is now Kopin’s Chief Optical Scientist.

You can find more information about Pupil in an interview I did with Kopin CEO, John Fan in 2018. It is truly a disruptive optical technology for Consumer applications.

What Kopin has done is create a tiny light guide or rod that is either 2mm or 4mm in height. A key advantage here is the small size. An optic of this size can be embedded into the frame or “brow bar” of a set of sunglasses or spectacles. Either above or below a user’s line of sight. Perhaps both. 

Here are some visuals to show Kopin’s own work to integrate Pupil into a normal pair of glasses:

Source: USPTO

If Apple were to integrate Pupil into their AR Smart Glass development program, expect even better aesthetic results.

Technical Advantages Of Pupil
Because Kopin Pupil is so small, there are a number of advantages it offers that are highly attractive to a companies like Apple that design exceptional and desirable Consumer products:

Ultra-Bright. Pupil is driven by Kopin’s transmissive LCD panel with high-brightness LED backlight. This display technology has been powering US military scopes and the F35 AR helmet for some time. Kopin can deliver over 2,000 nits to the eye and easily compete with bright sunlight. This is a critical consideration for Consumer AR. Virtually all of the optical see-through attempts you see will have difficulty competing with bright sunlight.

Power-Efficient. The combination of Kopin’s transmissive LCD panel and the tiny focused light path of Pupil, the entire display module is highly power-efficient. Much more efficient that using traditional optics as Google has used in Glass.

Optical See-Through. Due to the close proximity to the eye in this configuration the highly focused light path from the display through the Pupil optics enters the human pupil and reaches a very small area of the optical nerve at the back of the eye. As the rest of the nerves are seeing rays around this small focused area of the projected display, the Pupil optic is in effect a see-through optic.

Human First Design. Eye fatigue is an issue when using traditional optical see-through optics as the eye has to refocus when shifting between the AR optical eye box and the rest of the user’s natural FOV. Eye fatigue is almost nonexistent with Pupil due to the highly focused “pin hole” nature of the optics.

As Apple looks out at the current field of optical and display technologies to power their first generation of AR Smart Glasses, we are certain they are evaluating Kopin’s Pupil technology. Based on the available technologies we see, Kopin’s Pupil is the best fit for a simplified form of AR that Apple may choose to offer to Consumers in 2019 or 2020.

Author: Derrick Zierler - First Published: March 11, 2019