Smart glasses are already available in multiple shapes, sizes and degrees of ‘smartness’, but they are still a rare sight in everyday use. The likes of Microsoft’s HoloLens can offer a full blown augmented reality (AR) experience, but come with a hefty price tag and resemble more helmets than glasses, while those that look like normal sunglasses tend to come with limited features.
But Dispelix believes it has the tools to change this. The startup has developed a see-through display technology which brings high-resolution visual information directly into the user’s field of vision. These full-colour displays can be easily integrated into any lens design and turn even ordinary eyewear into immersive AR glasses.
“Our displays bring another world, a virtual image layer, on top of the real world,” explains Antti Sunnari, CEO and co-founder of Dispelix. “This can be used for instructions, information and entertainment.”
Sunnari gives a few practical examples. Instead of reaching for our phones or checking our smart watches, we could have the same information projected onto our eyeglasses with no limitations to our field of vision. Or the displays could be embedded into protective gear so a welder could receive instructions directly into their visor without having to stop working.
Dispelix is a newcomer to the market, but the science behind its optics and display manufacturing technology dates back to 2011. At the time Sunnari and co-founder Juuso Olkkonen started developing the technology at the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland. In late 2015, they finally decided it was ready for commercialisation and Dispelix was born.
Although see-through displays aren’t a novelty, Dispelix has succeeded in something others haven’t: making them extremely thin, high-performing and (crucially) suitable for mass-manufactured consumer products. This combination has already helped the company raise 1.7 million euros in funding, and earlier this year it was selected by US data analysis firm Quid as one of the 50 most promising startups in the world.
In two years Dispelix has also grown to 14 employees and secured its first customers. The startup is keeping details hush for now, but Sunnari hints that Dispelix displays could soon be seen in various application including sports, consumer electronics and industry use. He believes AR glasses could eventually even replace our beloved smartphones, tablets and TVs.
“We have customers in many sectors. AR will be a huge revolution in all aspects of life. Not only in consumer electronics, but the way we work, advertise, everything,” Sunnari enthuses. “It is hard to imagine a job where being able to access additional information while keeping your hands free wouldn’t be beneficial. Also, what do you need a TV for if AR glasses can provide a bigger and better image?”
The future in front of our eyes
Dispelix’s immediate targets are consumer electronics and industrial companies in Asia and the US, where Sunnari says practically all the significant players preside. The startup has no plans to develop its own end-user products, but instead it has set its goal as becoming the ‘Intel of smart glasses’.
While Dispelix is expanding its sales team and fine tuning its displays, Sunnari believes the company already has the technology to fit three core AR trends he sees developing.
First is integration into professional equipment for crucial hands-free information (think welders, even surgeons), secondly fashionable Google Glass-style smart glasses and finally the next generation of bulkier but more immersive AR visors used by gamers.
But for Dispelix this is just the start. Looking into the future, Sunnari believes the visions of sci-fi are achievable. He stresses technological leaps typically take a decade but in 20–30 years AR will be so seamlessly integrated into our lives we will have entirely new ways of communicating.
“At that point, our devices could communicate directly with our brains, if people are ready for that. I believe that will be the next big leap forward,” Sunnari says. “30 years ago, we couldn’t envision many of the technologies we have today. And it is exactly those things [we cannot foresee] that will be the most revolutionary.”