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Creal, a Swiss startup building augmented reality glasses, has announced a breakthrough in “light field” technology that can dramatically improve AR vision.
The Lausanne, Switzerland-based company unveiled its revolutionary AR display technology stack, which is set to be commercially available by early 2024, when it can be integrated into other products. Tomas Sluka, CEO of Creal, said in an interview with GamesBeat that the tech makes it more comfortable to wear AR glasses and will reduce eye strain, fatigue and nausea.
“Augmented reality should be the next communication interface. The logic is simple. Seeing the digital information in the same way we see reality is more natural,” Sluka said. “So, the only thing which holds it back is that it’s not easy to do it. And the first thing is that it should be natural.”
The patent-protected solution enables original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and original design manufacturers (ODMs) to develop augmented reality (AR) glasses that provide users with accurate depth perception.
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“It took us five years to bring the initial idea to actually work in a device,” Sluka said. “So it’s not a science fiction anymore. Many people still consider this hologram image as science fiction that is not practical. But it is.”
Distinguishing itself from conventional flat displays on the market, Creal’s light field-based content offers what it calls a true-to-life visual experience with realistic depth, even when viewed through a single eye.
Sluka said, “Today, 3D is incomplete. If you try any 3D headset on the market, they present in 3D, but they actually present flat images. This is the big problem because it ignores the fact that even one eye senses depth by focus and other cues. So our eye is able to focus only on your hand, or the bird on the display. It means you can’t see them. If you try to focus on your hand, everything fat is blurred. And if you don’t see what the display shows, then the display basically doesn’t work.”
It’s possible to correct the depth by mirroring the way light behaves in the real world. Humans can naturally do this change of focus with their eyes.
“We have built our optical engine with tried-and-true technologies that fit right into today’s manufacturing ecosystem,” Sluka said. “We know that glasses are a part of daily life for most of you. That’s why we’ve made our engine compatible with classic prescription lenses.”
The key is getting the focus right.
“I should stress that what we are announcing is not just some display which others can use. It’s a display with a new level of quality in it,” Sluka said. “Focus is a revolution in displays because all display so far are flat. And AR and VR is promising to display 3D content. But if you don’t have that focus, it’s not complete.”
The company was founded by Sluka and Alexander Kvasov in 2017 to explore light field technology. Creal is part of the Swiss tech innovation hub. The company comprises a technical team composed of experts from prestigious institutions such as CERN, EPFL, Intel, and Magic Leap.
“For me, it was a mission that started 10 years ago,” said Sluka. “”It actually came from my personal pain from VR around 2012 to 2014,” he said. I’m very sensitive to the vergence accommodation conflict. It’s the main source of unpleasant feeling. And during these 10 years, no product came with a complete solution. And we were working on it with a super competent team from Intel AR products, and Magic Leap.”
They chose the name Creal because it was a play on “seeing real,” with respect to human vision.
Creal has been developing its tech and has regularly shared engineering updates with its customers. To date, the company has secured a total of $18 million in funding, with a global team of 30 people. Investors include Swisscom Ventures, Verve Ventures, and DAA Capital Partners. Creal is now preparing to launch a new funding round to attract capital from interested investors worldwide.
The company has spent six years developing its AR light field micro-display tech that combines licensable hardware and software. Unlike existing 3D displays that present two flat-screen images to each eye, Creal’s light field technology recreates the light rays as they exist in the real world, resulting in highly immersive and top-quality images with genuine depth.
How it works
In physics terms, a light field is the description of how light exists and functions in the real world. In engineering terms, it is the technical approximation of that in AR and other viewfield technologies.
Primarily, light-field is different from imagery provided by standard flat displays, as it provides 3D imagery. CREAL’s light-field is a particularly high quality and high efficiency version of light-field that provides 3D imagery with real-world focal depth.
The core of Creal’s light field technology lies in its use of a combiner, eliminating the need for waveguides, and a thin holographic film that can be easily applied to standard or prescription lenses.
This display addresses the causes of discomfort, such as eye strain, fatigue, and nausea, commonly associated with current AR and VR headsets. Several leading AR glasses and headset ODMs have expressed their interest in evaluating Creal’s technology for their upcoming designs, the company said.
One of the significant challenges faced by existing AR headsets is the inability to display close-up content seamlessly, resulting in a phenomenon known as “vergence accommodation conflict” and focal rivalry. Creal said its solution overcomes these issues, allowing users to view AR content up close, mimicking real-world viewing experiences. With the human eye’s natural ability to focus on objects less than 20 centimeters away, Creal’s technology provides a more natural and comfortable viewing experience.
“By enabling continuous focus from up-close to infinity, matching the real-world depth perceived by users, Creal enables a natural and healthy visual experience with no substantial trade-offs regarding image quality, computational requirements, or system architecture, unlike competing solutions,” Sluka said.
If a display can move the focal distance and you can focus both eyes on a bird that is at a given distance. That focal distance can change with our own eyes, and it should also change with AR glasses. If an image isn’t sharp, the eyes are focusing on the wrong distance and the result is seasickness.
“When we have conflicting inputs, the brain preventively assumes your position and makes you feel sick,” Sluka said. “I’m among the 15% who simply cannot handle the issue. And majority of people feel strain in 20 minutes. The result is worse than wearing someone else’s glasses.”
Other headset makers have tried to solve the viewing distance with various tricks, but the flat display does not work.
“We need to create a real image with the true depth in the focus,” he said. “And this is what we do. We have a very different type of display system than anything else we are aware of. It’s basically 100 times faster as a projector than conventional displays. And we use the speed to provide many perspectives of the 3D scene to each eye. So, it’s like a stereo for one eye. And the second eye as well, of course, so as a result, the image has volume, and you choose where to focus.”
The tech has a fast frame rate, flashed to your eyes at eight kilohertz, or 8,000 frames per second. The content is generated at 240 hertz.
You can see some of the applications in the images in this story. Surgeons can look at images through the glasses and see what they’re supposed to be doing. They can see this without having to go look at a book or another display. Training could become easier if you can see how you’re supposed to fix something. And games and interactive entertainment become more pleasant if you can truly see with out blurring.
And you shouldn’t have to wear prescription glasses while you’re playing on a VR headset, as some of those can smash the glasses into your face.
“When I’m gaming in VR, I have two choices,” Sluka said. “I either have to buy the glasses adapted for my headset, which is expensive, or I just have to take my glasses off and just not see everything.”
Getting the correct focus is critical to having a mature and comfortable visual experience, said Sluka.
“We won’t get it right from practically any product on the market today. Without the correct focus, you will see conflicts and feel eye strain and nausea. That’s not what you want. It makes it an unpleasant and potentially unhealthy experience,” Sluka said.
The industry has been aware of this problem for a while but hasn’t found a remedy.
“The vision is that this will be a display which everybody will use everyday for everything from cooking to neurosurgery,” he said. “This technology will evolve, and it’s not as far out as most people think.”
Holding up a pair of glasses with slightly bulky side frames, he said, “All of these components will be scaled down in the next version.”
In volume production, it could cost around $100 to $200 in consumer quantities, he said.
One of the initial applications will be in providing vision care. It will help people see things better. It also can be used for training and entertainment, he said. It will also make it much easier to read things on a digital display when you’re looking at it through AR glasses.
Will the glasses become the same in weight and dimensions as ordinary glasses?
Sluka said that the limiting factor is the electronics for image processing, which needs to be put on a system-on-chip — a relatively powerful computer with all of the processing needs on one chip. That could require the talent of a veteran chip or hardware manufacturer, and that could take time to do.
“This is full-scale 3D,” Sluka said. “So far, the graphics are like the quality of a smart watch. People want the quality of a smartphone, and I would say what we have is the equivalent of a tablet.”
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