Can smartglasses look like conventional prescription eyeglasses?

by Guido Groet – Chief Strategy Officer Luxexcel

The tech and eyewear industries have reached consensus: for smartglasses to be widely adopted by consumers it will need to look like conventional eyewear. A breakthrough in 3D printing technology promises just that. Consumers will soon be able to use regular prescription eyewear with augmented reality as part of their everyday lives.

GoogleGlass was the first attempt at producing mainstream smartglasses. The optical head-mounted display was designed as a pair of eyeglasses, but it looked a lot like science goggles with a tiny camera protruding in front of the wearer’s right eye. Consumers didn’t get excited about GoogleGlass because of the way that it looked. It’s just not socially acceptable to stand out by wearing science goggles or headgear in public and during interpersonal interactions.

Social acceptability, however, really depends on the situation. The military has been using smart headgear for many years to display information in front of users’ eyes. For example, apache fighter pilots use integrated helmets. A more recent example is a US defense contract won by Microsoft to build an IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System) headset which is based on a modified version of HoloLens 2 for use on the battlefield.

Smartglasses have also gained acceptance in the enterprise environment. Industries such as manufacturing, life sciences, aerospace, and automotive have all been early adopters of smartglasses. Most of the workers in these environments already wear headgear or a helmet to support them in their work. Wearing an optical head-mounted display ensures further efficiencies.

Smartglasses can look ‘normal’

Tech players have now learned that smartglasses for the mainstream market need to be fashionable, conventional-looking, and not too prominent. Smartglasses consist of multiple integrated functions which combined make a lighter, thinner, usable, and overall consumer-friendly device. As a technology provider, Luxexcel takes care of the smart prescription lens. We’ve developed unique 3D printing technology to enable tech players to bring conventional-looking prescription smartglasses to consumers.

The technology works unlike 3D printers most people are familiar with. During the 3D printing process, a smart device such as a waveguide is encased in the printed material and prescription power is printed on top or around it. The waveguide, which projects images into the eye, is fully embedded in the prescription lens. With the integrated smart device in the prescription lens, the entire device has a smaller form factor and looks like conventional, fashionable glasses.

integrated waveguide 3D printed lenses

A waveguide is encapsulated in a 3D printed prescription lens contributing towards a lighter, thinner device that looks like conventional eyeglasses

A waveguide encapsulated in a prescription lens

The advantage of a 3D printed smart prescription lens is that it’s thinner and lighter. We ensure that the form factor of the entire device becomes smaller and that it looks like conventional glasses. The encapsulated 3D printed lens helps to achieve a combined weight below 50 grams for the complete glasses, which makes it easy to wear throughout the day.

Another advantage is that waveguides can be sensitive, complex pieces of plastic that easily break, scratch, or bend during normal use. A waveguide encased in a 3D printed lens is fully protected against impact, dust, and humidity, and it becomes durable.

A future with smart eyewear

Predictions are that we’ll see pilot smart prescription glasses for the consumer market as soon as 2022. Imagine having a map pop up in front of your eyes to help you navigate a city, or a notification floating into view, and responding to it with a quick voice command. There are so many possibilities and once prescription smartglasses become mainstream new applications and use cases will be developed.

While people need to see the virtual world, they also need to have the ability to view the real world at the same time. Prescription lenses play an important role in enabling the mass consumer market to take advantage of smartglasses. Read my blog: How 3D printing creates prescription lenses for smartglasses

With our 3D printed lenses, we enable AR hardware manufacturers to provide consumers with lenses that will allow them to blend into their environments while having the ability to gain information through their eyewear. With Luxexcel’s 3D printed lenses, we’re privileged to be an active participant in making the next computing trend a reality!

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