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Using Holography Tech to Advance AR/VR Displays

Startup company developing chips that leverage holographic technology to produce ultra high-res AR/VR displays.

Spencer Chin

November 2, 2022

2 Min Read
Swave expects to leverage its HXR diffractive chip technology to enable OEMS to manufacture lighter, lower-cost AR/VR googles that allow direct wide-angle viewing.Image courtesy of Andrea Obzerova / Alamy

One hurdle with current displays for AR/VR (augmented reality/virtual reality) is that their relatively poor resolution, which in turn leads to viewability issues and discomfort among users. In an effort to improve AR/VR displays, a startup company called Swave is developing chips that leverage advances in photonics and lithography to achieve far better display resolution than current technologies.

The new company is a fabless semiconductor company spun off from Imec, Europe’s largest independent research center in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. Swave has gone through one seed round of funding and is being headed by Mike Noonen, a longtime electronics industry executive whose experience includes tenures with GlobalFoundries, NXP, National Semiconductors, and Cisco Systems.

Swave is leveraging Imec’s holographic technology, which uses diffractive optics which can reconstruct 3D lightwaves representing all elements of an image, noted Noonen in a recent conference call with DesignNews.  Competing technologies include Texas Instruments’ DLP (Digital Light Processing) technology, which differs from Swave’s approach in that it uses a digital micromirror array to reflect rather than refract light arrays.

Swave’s diffractive optics approach, called HXR, uses sub half-wavelenth pixel technology to achieve spatial light modulation. Light is ‘sculpted’ through interferences from the diffracted light by the ‘on’ pixels, producing an array of tiny, densely packed pixels providing high resolution and an ultra-wide field of view. The technology projects lifelike holographic images that eliminate today’s AR/VR/XR challenges of focal depth and eye tracking, so viewers can easily focus on nearby and faraway objects. The technology achieves resolutions hundreds of times better than existing methods and can be scaled to produce arrays having up to 64 gigapixels, according to Swave.

Related:Can Virtual Reality Take Away the Pain?

The company foresees a range of potential applications emerging from this technology. For one, Swave envisions the development of lighter, lower-cost AR/VR googles that allow direct wide-angle viewing with no revealer, achieving high-resolution images without the eyestrain and headaches common with these products.

Another potential application would be 360-degree holographic walls that provide an immersive viewing experience without having to wear 3D glasses. Such holographic systems would comprise a series of holographic boxes and allow flexible geometries and life-life viewing.

Other potential applications include collaborative videoconferencing, and heads-up displays for automotive and aerospace systems.

Related:Microdisplays Promise to Improve Viewing in AR Apps

Swave will produce large chip versions (2 cm x 2 cm) for ultra-high-end holographic display applications, and tiny (0.5 cm x 0.5 cm) versions target ultra-light-weight wearable devices. Initial HXR chip samples are planned to be available in 2023. Future versions of HXR chips will be optimized for additional emerging AR/VR/XR applications.

The company expects to begin mass production by 2024.

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor for Design News covering the electronics beat. He has many years of experience covering developments in components, semiconductors, subsystems, power, and other facets of electronics from both a business/supply-chain and technology perspective. He can be reached at [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Spencer Chin

Senior Editor, Design News

Spencer Chin is a Senior Editor with Design News, covering the electronics beat.

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