July 15, 2021
Good morning, and welcome to Protocol Next Up. This week: AR display startup DigiLens wants to use plastics for future consumer devices and video startup Genvid has raised $113 million for interactive TV shows.
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Consumer AR glasses need to be lightweight, cheap and easily producible at mass-market scale — and Bay Area-based waveguide display maker DigiLens is betting on plastics to tick all those boxes. The company has teamed up with Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation to develop plastic waveguide displays that can be used by AR device makers to build their products, DigiLens CEO Chris Pickett exclusively told Protocol during a recent interview. "If you wanted an ideal partner, Mitsubishi is that partner for plastics," Pickett said.
DigiLens has been developing waveguide displays for nearly two decades. During that time, the company has perfected the use of photopolymer waveguide technology, which essentially sandwiches an inkjet-printed waveguide between two layers of glass. That approach leads to better-performing displays while also causing less breakage than imprinting the waveguide directly onto the glass, Pickett explained.
Breaking glass has been a major issue for AR makers. There have been persistent rumors that some of the major companies in the market right now have struggled with too much breakage during display manufacturing — and that's even before these devices have reached the consumer market. Who knows what will happen once we all get our clumsy hands on AR glasses. Plastics could help not only make the production process more foolproof, but also lead to less damage during everyday use. And there are other issues with using glass:
Plastics also come with some challenges. Notably: Finding a material that mirrors the optical qualities of glass isn't easy.
DigiLens isn't looking to become a mass-market manufacturer. Instead, the company is licensing its display technology to others, much in the same way ARM licenses CPU designs to chip manufacturers. The company's investors include Continental, Samsung, Niantic, Foxconn, Sony and Mitsubishi, and it has already struck licensing partnerships with a few manufacturers in South Korea and China, as well as with Continental for automotive heads-up displays.
No DigiLens-powered products are available for sale just yet, with the exception of a developer device announced in May. However, Pickett told me that we may see that change soon, including the launch of devices using plastic waveguide lenses. "We will be able to ship a full waveguide by the end of the year," he said.
"Quibi was just a bad idea. I mean, it's that simple." —Barry Diller, proving that people will never stop dunking on Quibi.
"If you think you can't do or achieve that one thing, please note that Quibi earned 8 Emmy nominations this year." —Media writer Chris Feil, adding insult to postmortem glory.
A survey of 12,000 employees by Boston Consulting Group found 60% of respondents want flexibility as far as where and when they work. As the world plans to safely reopen businesses, educational institutions, health care facilities and government entities, we are focused on innovating across our platform to support their needs.
The company behind the interactive Facebook show "Rival Peak" is getting ready to produce a lot more such events: New York-based Genvid has raised $113 million in a series C round from investors including Valor Equity Partners and Atreides Management, and is adding former Netflix Originals exec Cindy Holland as an adviser.
Navok told me that producing "Rival Peak" was a bit of a wake-up call for the company, as it realized that handling IP required a different set of skills than building the tech itself. "We simply weren't organized as a company to do production work," he said.
Next up for Genvid: major Hollywood IP. With the new cash infusion, Genvid now wants to get ready to produce interactive shows based on well-known characters.
I have to admit that it's been a while since a VR story has really gotten to me. However, this week, I finally watched "Paper Birds," and it definitely is one of those experiences that I will keep going back to in order to explore every nook and cranny. The story is dark but captivating, and the animation is top-notch. However, what really got me was the way "Paper Birds" uses motion and transitions, sending viewers through a world that constantly expands and contracts as the main character tries to save his sister, and uncovers some of his family's secrets along the way. Go try it out for yourself!
Thanks for reading — see you next week!
Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Chris Pickett's name. This story was updated on July 15, 2021.