DigiLens, creators of waveguide optics, today announced the Design v1, a modular reference headset which the company hopes will accelerate the development and consumerization of truly glasses-sized AR headsets. Road to VR got an exclusive hands-on demo of the Design v1 and the company’s latest waveguides.

DigiLens is one of several companies building waveguide optics and positioning them for use in XR. Waveguides allow for extremely compact near-eye optics which are no thicker than the lenses on a pair of glasses.

Seemingly frustrated that no company has yet created a pair of AR glasses suitable for mass adoption, DigiLens has set about building a modular reference design to help interested parties accelerate the time-to-market of affordable AR glasses. The device is called the Design v1, a fully standalone pair of AR glasses with Snapdragon XR2 and a 50° diagonal field of view.

“Design v1 is brighter, lighter and more capable than any other waveguide based XR device on the market. Our strategy is to empower the forward leaning XR companies in the ecosystem to capitalize on the strengths of an emerging horizontal market,” says Chris Pickett, CEO of DigiLens. “We are creating an XR blueprint for the ecosystem to take, add to and adapt as needed for their individual markets and their unique XR software development needs. Expanding the pool of experts and democratizing ideas across the spectrum is what the market has missed to date.”

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The Design v1 AR glasses are comprised of three core modular parts:

  • Frame: containing compute, batteries, and sensors
  • Optics: featuring the company’s waveguides
  • Display module: containing the display and light source

These parts snap together in a matter of seconds, without tools, as easily as Legos. The idea behind Design v1 is to give large tech companies a customizable starting point for building a pair of AR glasses that fits their productization needs. Here’s a look at the specs of the base unit:

DigiLens Design v1 Specs
Resolution 1,280 x 720 (0.9MP) per-eye, DLP
Refresh Rate 60Hz, 72Hz, 90Hz
Lenses DigiLens waveguide
Field-of-view 44° x 25° (50° diagonal)
Processor Snapdragon XR2
RAM 6GB
Storage 128GB
Connectors USB-C
Tracking Dual on-board cameras (no external beacons)
Input Gaze
Audio In-frame speakers
Microphone Yes
Cameras 8MP RGB center
Wireless Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth
Make no mistake, the Design v1 is unfortunately not for your everyday enthusiast hardware hacker. DigiLens is planning to work directly with a small handful of companies to iteratively customize the Design v1 for their specific needs. In fact DigiLens isn’t announcing an actual price for the glasses—it’s a ‘get in touch if you’re interested’ sort of situation.

Bright as Daylight

While the modular design is interesting, DigiLens isn’t the only game in town with a reference design for AR glasses. So what makes the company think theirs is the best offering out there?

Naturally, it comes down to their waveguides, which are indeed some of the best AR optics available today.

It’s not just that waveguides can be truly the thickness of the lenses on a pair of glasses—and get just as close to your eye—they’re also highly transparent and actually capable of looking like glasses, rather than sunglasses as is the case with many of the AR headsets available today which need to dim incoming light to account for low brightness.

Photo by Road to VR

On the other hand, DigiLens boasts of having 300 nits per lumen brightness, and the demo to back it up. I got to visit the company’s Silicon Valley office for an exclusive look at its latest optics. Before trying on the Design v1 itself, the company sat me outside on a sunny afternoon and showed me their Crystal 30G optic (which has just a single color channel, green) connected to a compact board containing the display and light source.

After picking up the optic and looking through it, I could see the image clearly, even when set against the bright blue sky. That’s pretty impressive considering it can still sometimes be hard to see smartphones in direct sunlight (smartphones commonly have sub 1,000 nit brightness; DigiLens says this demo was 3,000 nits). I was even able to take a perfectly good photo through the lens with my phone.

Through-the-lens of DigiLens Crystal 30G optic in bright daylight | Photo by Road to VR

While the Design v1 isn’t this bright just yet, the company pointed out that—assuming the same light source—there’s a range of tradeoffs among waveguides between color channels, field-of-view, and brightness. Part of why they’re building the Design v1 with modular optics is so partners can easily snap on a different optic that’s specific to their use-case, whether that be optimizing for a wide field-of-view or for maximum brightness.

Continue on Page 2: Hands-on with DigiLens Design v1 »

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  • Bob

    Things that are “modular” never turn out successful.

    • The PC (IBM “Project Chess”) proved quite successful as a modular design?

  • Ad

    If this is less than a thousand then it’s not a bad idea. I’d probably want to get one of these if there wasn’t already Project North Star.

  • Mad Max 2025

    I hope that in 5 years time , these AR glasses are affordable for most consumers. Can’t wait for that time to happen. Now using my Oculus Quest 1 as a primitive black/white AR passthrough headset while going to the supermarket, trainstation, other places to impress people for fun and free interesting chat.

  • wheeler

    I’m personally not even looking for that great of visual fidelity out of AR glasses–it’s not like I’m dreaming of watching movies or playing games in them. From a practical standpoint, I’m looking for something that can replace basic smartphone functions like checking and interacting with text messages, notifications, calendars, to-do lists, browsing webpages, etc etc. E.g. I would like to be able to walk through a store with a list of items projected in front of me and check them off as I find them.

    The process of doing these things on a smartphone is horrible. Constantly taking a phone in and out of your pocket and turning on/unlocking the screen is high friction. Having to fully occupy one hand for viewing and two hands for input (and then having to put the phone down again when you want to act on the information displayed) is limiting. Shifting focus to a tiny screen that can hardly hold any information is also limiting. Fumbling around with crappy error prone touchscreen interfaces for input is clunky and cumbersome. Smartwatches are hardly any better.

    If I could have a heads up display with monochrome color mostly visible in daylight, that look like glasses (or even safety glasses–the bulk on top of the frame pictured above here is a bit too much), and that offload compute to my smartphone (hell, I’d run a wire down my shirt to the smartphone), I’d be all over it. Wouldn’t be appealing as a mass market device but I don’t really care about that.

    Designing a user interface and input for such a system would certainly be quite difficult though. I don’t want to use feedbackless hand tracking for a variety of reasons (similar to all of the problems it presents in VR). Something combining eye-tracking and devices that mount to the back of your fingers that give feedback (similar to the Apple AR patent) seems more practical. I’ve heard it said that AR must be able to infer your context in order to be used effectively but I’m not really convinced of that. If the input is good enough, you should be able to intentionally switch to the appropriate context.

    • “Heads up, hands free” immersive computing…smartphone replacement; the mass market transition.

      Not surprised to see Digilens at forefront; SBG Labs (later rebranded as Digilens) was founded by UK scientist Jonathan Waldern, following his early VR venture “Virtuality” (W Industries).

      I’ve thoroughly enjoyed using both Magic Leap and Hololens, it’s fantastic that Digilens have launched this development kit to push the industry forward, and look forward to trying it soon. Happy XR!

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  • Wow, amazing hands-on, Ben! It is very interesting… but I wonder what compromises have they done to put everything inside that small headset… I mean, the battery must be small, the xr2 probably underclocked to not heat that much, etc…

  • Lhorkan

    Funny that one of the related articles is from 2018, when they also made a reference headset – I wonder if it that ever got picked up by any manufacturers. The new waveguides definitely look very promising though, I sure hope something does come of it.

    • benz145

      I believe the tech they were showcasing in that headset has moved forward to what we’re seeing today, but now with more compact lenses.