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Augmented Reality (AR) is being brought out of science fiction and into real-world applications, generating a market that has the potential to grow to US$100 billion by 2024.

Jarvish, a Taiwanese AR smart-wearable manufacturer, has partnered with the University of Melbourne and Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN) to prototype a small, lightweight AR system that can be integrated into regular-sized spectacles, military goggles, or motorcycle helmets.

AR is an emerging technology that enables the seamless overlay of reality with computer-generated virtual images in such a way that the virtual content is aligned with actual objects. The main part of any AR device is a display through which a viewer can see both the digital and real worlds simultaneously.

The technology is already enabling crossover between the real and the virtual in the medical sector where it’s allowing for image- guided surgeries to be performed, and also by providing in-depth training scenarios for new students through surgical simulations. It’s also seeing growing usage in applications found in industrial design, consumer electronics, education, and the entertainment industry.

While the premise is promising, current systems utilise a glass- based technique to deliver images to the eye. The approach demands bulky optical cables and a micro-display to be integrated into the viewing glass on either side of the line of sight for both eyes – this makes the system large and blocks peripheral vision. The result is an uncomfortable device that can also cause eyestrain, traits that have unsurprisingly hindered widespread adoption of AR in most applications.

To allow use of this futuristic technology to spread, Jarvish collaborated with The University of Melbourne and the MCN to develop a flexible AR display prototype that is capable of being incorporated into more ergonomic systems. Specifically, they’ve worked with experts at the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication to embed micro and nanostructures on a flexible PDMS base and incorporate it into a system that resembles ordinary spectacles.

Within Jarvish’s device, a flexible multilayer guide carries light towards an array of air-filled micro and nano structures that form a pixel array. A computer-generated image is produced by a micro-display located in the frame of the device and is carried by the flexible waveguide into the pixel array. Here, the image is reflected out of the system and towards the eye, resulting in the desired effect of a virtual world overlapping the real one.

MCN’s photolithography, metal evaporators, high resolution 3D printing capabilities and the Centre’s PDMS lab were all used widely during development, while a number of ANFF experts were closely involved in the fabrications of the working prototypes.

The company has filed a patent on this technology “Light Guiding Apparatus and Guiding Method Thereof” with the Australian Patent Office on 7 September 2020, and has been accorded Australian provisional application No. 2020903198. The prototyping is ongoing, with further development of the device being undertaken with a view towards mass production.