In April this year, we wrote about how augmented reality (AR) may be one of the biggest investment opportunities ever. In the not-so-distant future, an augmented reality device could make you wonder why we ever peered through the small windows of televisions, or how we ever learned anything without using AR. As with every new technology, AR recently had it’s moment of public awareness with the frenetic popularity of Pokémon Go. Now we’re just waiting for companies like Magic Leap to show us what they’ve been building. In the meantime, at least 13 other companies are debuting AR headsets with the most popular at the moment, being the Microsoft HoloLens. All of these companies have something in common. They are all working feverishly to get their technology to market. Would it surprise you to know that one company has been working on this now for over 15 years? Would it surprise even more to know that the technology has already been used by the U.S. military for over a decade? That company is called Lumus Optical.
Founded in 2000, Israeli startup Lumus has taken in just over $56 million in funding so far to develop their “wearable displays” which are pretty much what you have in mind when you think of smart glasses except that they have a discrete and natural-looking design. The actual technology is called “Light-guide Optical Element technology” and it’s a small engine like the one seen below which projects the digital image onto the glass in front of your eyes:
The product that Lumus sells is the actual hardware engine that powers the glasses, and they’ve already sold 10,000 of them. That’s right, they’ve already manufactured and sold 10,000 units of their AR technology but not all in the form of eyeglasses. The biggest buyer of those units was none other than the U.S. military. Lumus is actually a military contractor that supplies the heads-up displays for F-16 fighter jet helmets. They probably realized that their tried-and-true technology being used for one of the most demanding occupations ever, could also be used by the common public to use for taxing applications like chasing funny looking Japanese cartoon characters around. Here’s a look at one of the stand-alone development kits from Lumus that you can get your hands on today:
This latest round of funding tells us a bit about what plans Lumus has in store. The two lead investors were Quanta (the world’s largest producer of notebook computers) and HTC (the company that built the HTC Vive virtual reality headset). It’s clear that Lumus plans to scale very quickly in order to capture as much market share as possible from the Microsoft HoloLens which is a direct competitor. In looking at how Lumus might go about doing that, we see that they have a number of partnerships with other augmented reality startups.
Israeli company Infinity AR isn’t exactly a startup because they used to trade as a pink sheet stock. Late last year, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba invested $18 million into Infinity with the intent of building an open AR platform that enables all AR headsets to understand their surroundings. The idea is that the headset can tell you what you’re looking at as you view objects. If you’re thinking of Terminator 2 when you visualize it, then that’s probably pretty close to what they’ll be able to do eventually. The DK-50 development kit you see above is actually powered by the Infinity AR software platform.
Founded in 2010, Los Angeles startup DAQRI has taken in $15 million in funding to become the world’s leading enterprise augmented reality company. Their flagship product is the DAQRI Smart Helmet which can be seen below:
That smart helmet uses an Intel Core m7 processor, a wide-angle tracking camera, an Intel depth sensor and a thermal camera. No mention was made about price point or availability. The glasses, on the other hand, come in a developers’ edition for $4,995 and will be available in June of 2017 if you join the waitlist and put down a 10% deposit. More information on the DAQRI Smart Glasses can be found at this link.
In addition to the above 2 startups, Lumus also has partnerships with a few large French companies:
- Thales Group – 63,000-employee company that builds electronic devices for aerospace, defense, and transportation (55% of sales are military sales)
- Essilor Group – A world leader in visual health with 60,000 employees and over $6 billion in yearly revenues
While these partnerships might not be as notable as the ones we see Microsoft is establishing for the HoloLens, it seems like Lumus has a well tested product that is ready for market and just needs applications developed for it. Those same channels that HTC is using to sell their Vive virtual reality headsets can easily accommodate the Lumus augmented reality headsets. With 13 other contenders poised to release headsets shortly, Lumus better use that cash to gain some market share fast.
Looking to buy shares in companies before they IPO? A company called Motif Investing lets you buy pre-IPO shares in companies that are led by JP Morgan. You can open an account with Motif with no deposit required so that you are ready to buy pre-IPO shares when they are offered.