Lumus’ latest waveguide, dubbed Maximus, is now even more compact thanks to 2D image expansion. With impressive image quality and a more compact optical engine, the company is poised to have a leading display solution for truly glasses-sized AR headsets.

2D expansion adds an additional light bounce to expand the image, allowing for a smaller optical engine

Lumus has been touting its Maximus waveguide since as far back as 2017, but since then its waveguide display has improved and shrunk considerably, thanks to so-called ‘2D expansion’ which allows the optical engine (the part of the waveguide display which actually creates the image) to be considerably smaller without sacrificing quality or field of view. The improvements have moved the company’s display solution closer than ever to actually looking and working like a pair of glasses.

For comparison, here’s a look at the first time we saw Maximus back in 2017. It had thin optics and a fairly wide field-of-view, but the optical engine was huge, requiring a large overhead structure.

Photo by Road to VR

The company’s latest Maximus waveguide has shrunk things down considerably with 2D image expansion. That means the light is reflected twice to magnify the image vertically and then horizontally before bouncing it into your eye. Doing so allows the optical engine (where the display and light source are housed) to be much smaller and mounted on the side of the glasses while retaining plenty of peripheral vision.

What you’re seeing here is a fully functional display prototype (ie: working images through the lens, but battery and compute are not on-board) that I got to check out at last week’s AWE 2022.

Here’s a look at how the optical engine has been shrunk when moving from 1D expansion to 2D expansion. It’s clear to see how much easier it would be to fit the left one into something you could really call glasses.

Lumus waveguide and optical engine with 2D expansion (left) and 1D expansion (right)

Actually looking through the prototype glasses you can see a reasonably wide 50° field-of-view, but more importantly an impressively uniform image, both in color and clarity. By comparison similar devices like HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap tend to have hazy color inconsistency which often shows a faint rainbow haze from one side of the view to the other. Our friend Karl Guttag captured a great through-the-lens comparison of the Lumus prototype:

Image courtesy Karl Guttag

Brightness in the Lumus Maximus glasses is also a major advantage, so much so that these glasses don’t need to dim the incoming light at all, compared to many other AR headsets and glasses that have sunglasses-levels of tinting in order to make the virtual image appear more solid against even ambient indoor light. Lumus says this Maximus prototype goes up to 5,000 nits which is usable in broad daylight.

The lack of heavy tinting also means other people can see your eyes just as easily as if you were wearing regular glasses, which is an important social consideration (wearing sunglasses indoors, or otherwise hiding your eyes, has a connotation of untrustworthiness).

The image through the glasses is also quite crisp; the waveguide is paired with a 2,048 × 2,048 microdisplay which resolves small text fairly well given that it’s packed into a 50° field-of-view. I didn’t have enough time to do any in-depth testing, but at this resolution and field-of-view, the prototype has been measured to achieve a ‘retina’ resolution of 60 pixels per-degree.

Lumus’ waveguide offerings clearly have a lot of advantages compared to contemporaries, especially with overall image quality, brightness, and social acceptability. The big question at this point is… why aren’t we seeing them in consumer products yet?

The answer is multifaceted (if anyone from Lumus is reading this, yes, that’s an intentional pun). For one, what Lumus is showing here is a display prototype, which means the displays are functional, but the glasses themselves have none of the other stuff you need for a pair of standalone AR glasses (ie: battery, compute, and sensors). You can of course offload the compute and battery into a tethered ‘puck’ design, but this significantly reduces the consumer appeal. So those other components still require some miniaturization R&D to be done before everything can fit comfortably into this form-factor.

Another reason is manufacturing costs. Lumus insists that its waveguide solutions can be affordably manufactured at large scales—even for consumer-priced products—and has the backing of major electronics manufacturer Quanta Computer and glass manufacturing specialist SCHOTT. But manufacturing at small scale may not be reasonably affordable when it comes to a device priced for the consumer market. That means waiting until a big player is ready to place a big bet on bringing an AR device to consumers.

For Lumus’ part, the company says it has been working closely with several so-called ‘tier-1’ technology companies (a category which would include Facebook, Apple, Google, and others) for years now. Lumus expects to see the first major consumer product incorporating its waveguide solution in 2024.

Update (June 7th, 2022 – 4:07PM PT): A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted the resolution of the prototype that I saw at 1,440 × 1,440, which has been corrected to 2,048 × 2,048. Lumus does have a 1,440 prototype and says the lower resolution trades for lower battery life and price. This article also cited 3,000 nits brightness for the Lumus Maximus prototype but this has been corrected to 5,000 nits.

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  • mellott124

    They guys show good stuff but they’re always prototypes and never integrated into end user products outside of the military. I’m guessing due to price.

    • David Goldman

      That’s exactly why we co-developed mass manufacturing processes with SCHOTT and Quanta. We are priced for the consumer market now.

  • ZeePee

    Wouldn’t be surprised if Meta used this for their 2024 launch of project Nazare.

    Especially considering they’ve been working with tier 1 companies. Don’t think there’s a better solution out there unless meta have made one themselves.

    Will be interesting to see what Apple and Google do too.

  • kontis

    People already have (effectively) 50 deg FOV devices in their pockets and homes.
    At 50 deg you can’t do a useful headtracked orthostereo, so the head mounted advantage disappears.

    Casual users will always expect full eyepiece augmented vision even at $200. They will understand blurriness and low resolution and accept it as a shortcoming of low price, but give them 50 deg FOV and they will think you are joking and won’t see any value in the product, even for free. This is why no one cared about low FOV “VR” headsets for 20 years until a low res 110 deg one was released. Pixels like bricks, but FOV was everything.

    • Guygasm

      This is part of why I’m quite happy Meta are going to a full release with Cambria, even if not consumer focused. It will really test wide FOV AR in the real world and much earlier than waiting on high FOV see through approaches. Maybe it’s obvious, but it seems like a smart move to keep at the front of ecosystem development even while continuing with their own long term see through AR work.

    • Dave

      100% agree with this. I was lucky to try out the Hololens a few years ago in Las Vegas, and I really appreciate the technology the biggest factor limiting it was for me the FoV, also image opacity (you can see through solid colours) and stability were issues too.

      I’ve finally found a company which has improved all three issues to significant levels. I’ve put my order in for Tilt 5 which yes it’s only a board game but the technology looks great, 110 degrees FoV with more solid colours and 180 Hhz refresh to give it a rock solid picture. Very excited to try this out.

      • Brian

        Good luck with that.. That company has failed to deliver prior products to backers. Dont think it will see the light of day.

    • Denny Unger

      Yup yup. FOV is critical for mainstream AR adoption but I think most OEM’s know that…which is why everyone is suddenly speaking in terms of “many years away” now. The peak of AR disillusionment starts now ;)

  • Octogod

    Those look sharp and have an admirable form factor, but 50 degrees is a dealbreaker.

  • They seem confident that in 2 years a tier-one player launches its AR glass… interesting