The man making Terminator vision real: Vuzix CEO Paul Travers talks future display tech

Vuzix-and-Nokia-Eyewear-v3

Last week, video eyewear maker Vuzix announced (pdf) that it has partnered with cell phone maker Nokia to produce the next generation of see-through near-eye display (NED) glasses. The glasses will use Exit Pupil Expanding (EPE) optics technology developed by both Vuzix and Nokia.

Vuzix, which has been developing display technologies for the military since 1997, credits itself with creating the consumer video eyewear market, which it did in 2005 with the release of the V920 glasses. 

The V920s and other Vuzix products allow users to view media on a pair of glasses, which make it look as though they are watching a big-screen television. Unfortunately, the less-than-stylish look, high cost and relatively cumbersome feel of the Vuzix glasses have made a full-on breakthrough into the mainstream difficult. 

After learning about the Vuzix-Nokia deal, which the company says will enable a “new era of innovation” for NEDs, we thought we’d get a bit more info about what remains a potentially game-changing technology. We asked Vuzix founder, president and CEO Paul Travers how the next generation of glasses will shift gears for the company.

paul travers vuzixDigital Trends: For starters, how would you describe Vuzix’s products, and NED systems in general, to someone who has no idea what they are?

Travers: The technology’s roots lay in the defense industry, where it is used to drive robots, in night-vision systems, remote video feed access, and wearable displays for laptops.  Most of our current consumer customers use our products for mobile video viewing, watching 3D movies and gaming.  For the latter, we offer head-tracking technology that literally allows the user to “look around” the game as if they stepped inside. 

Recently, Vuzix started shipping a new line of video eyewear that enables augmented reality.  These glasses are transparent and have cameras so the user can see computer graphics overlaid in the real world.

What exactly is Nokia’s EPE technology, and how does it work?

The Nokia optics are thin plastic plates that have 300-micron gratings built into the surface that direct video from a small input grating through the plate to a large output grating that you look through to see the real world and the injected video.  These optics are as thin as reading glasses, and when paired with a Vuzix display engine, will finally allow a form factor that truly looks like sunglasses.  It is the culmination of years of technology development and finally close to becoming a reality. 

How will the integration of Nokia’s EPE technology change Vuzix’s NED systems?

Our current technology is based on conventional refractive and reflective optics and micro-displays that were designed for camera view finders.  This technology, both the EPE optics and the Vuzix display engine, changes everything.  From form factors, to price to power consumption, to resolution — all the things needed to finally realize the consumer’s vision.  

How would you describe the potential users experience of a pair of Nokia-enhanced NED glasses?

Look at all the cool apps that do AR on a phone, and now imagine those experiences in your glasses connecting the web and the world like never before.  

vuzix-wrap-2Will Nokia-powered Vuzix glasses be used with other Nokia products?  If so, how? Will we be able to see our phone screens on our glasses?

One of the biggest applications will be around the mobile phone.  All the major suppliers have GPS-enabled apps that are AR enabled just waiting for the right glasses to deliver the experience.  The Nokia Vuzix relationship will deliver for these experiences in your sunglasses.

What are some of the challenges of breaking NED into the mainstream? And how do you expect the addition of Nokia’s technology to make that breakthrough less difficult?

Current products are bulky, expensive, and lower resolution. This relationship changes all of that.

Where do you see NED systems going in the next 10 years? How “sci-fi” will it get in that time?

They will be part of every aspect of life.  From a visit to the doctor, to interacting with game characters, to stepping into a meeting with people from three different continents right in your home office. 

When will customers be able to purchase Nokia-enhanced NED glasses?

We will be shipping into the defense markets in Q1 of next year. Stay tuned for the consumer markets.

Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.
Emerging Tech

NASA’s satellite projects will study the sun using solar sailing

Small satellites can be used for all sorts of purposes, and NASA has been searching for ideas to push ahead the capabilities of the hardware. The agency has announced two new projects to demonstrate the potential of small satellites.
Emerging Tech

Hubble captures a beautiful cosmic jellyfish made of glowing gas

A new image from Hubble might look like a deep-space jellyfish, but it's not a sign of extraterrestrial life - in fact, it's a planetary nebula called NGC 2022, located in the constellation of Orion (The Hunter).
Emerging Tech

Wreckage, reefs, and robots: The high-tech quest to find Amelia Earhart’s plane

Over 80 years ago, American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared while trying to fly around the world. Now an autonomous water-based robot could help find some answers. Here's how.
Emerging Tech

Parker Solar Probe makes a second orbit of the sun, captures solar wind on video

The Parker Solar Probe, launched last year, has completed its second orbit around the sun. To celebrate, the team responsible for the probe has released a video showing solar winds in action.
Cars

Starman on Tesla Roadster makes first orbit around sun, braces for loneliness

Starman and his Tesla Roadster, sent by SpaceX to outer space last year, have completed their first orbit around the sun. The people on Earth may be able to catch a glimpse of the cherry-red electric vehicle on November 2020.
Emerging Tech

Bernie Sanders calls for a ban on police use of facial recognition

Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders is calling for a complete ban on the use of facial recognition by law enforcement as part of the new criminal justice reform plan he introduced this weekend.
Emerging Tech

On the fence about buying solar panels? Tesla now offers them for rent

With solar rental Tesla says “customers get the best from solar power — clean, cheap energy to power homes and vehicles — without upfront costs or decades-long agreements. In fact, customers can get solar power with one click, instead…
Emerging Tech

Autonomous robot deliveries are coming to 100 university campuses in the U.S.

Autonomous robot company Starship Technologies has announced that it will expand its food delivery services to 100 university campuses around the United States over the next 24 months.
Emerging Tech

India’s lunar mission just got one giant leap closer to the moon

India’s uncrewed lunar mission entered into the moon’s orbit on Tuesday, bringing it within striking distance of its historic goal, according to an announcement from the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Emerging Tech

Move over Spot. There’s a new robo-dog on the block — and it’s waterproof

ANYbotics, the Swiss robotics company behind the four-legged, oil rig-inspecting ANYmal robot, has released its next-generation quadruped robot dog successor. Check it out in action.