Editorial Feature

Using Photonics to Create Virtual Reality (VR)

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Many types of optical and photonics technologies are needed to create the next phase of virtual and augmented reality. These systems promise users visual comfort for prolonged use as well as greater display immersion.

Photonics engineering is the application of science and technology to generate, control, and detect photons. It is the foundation of much of today's modern technology, such as smartphones, tv, and, of course, virtual reality.

Many of the largest technology companies are invested in VR and AR, as well as MR (mixed reality), which is a combination of both. The biggest problems facing the industry to date are accommodation conflict mitigation, pixel occlusion, high dynamic range, and peripheral displays. All of these are hurdles to seamlessly blend actual reality with virtual reality.

In addition to this, optical foveation and vergence offer the largest challenge for optical engineers. Foveation is a processing method where the resolution of a digital image varies across the field of view. This is according to ‘fixation points’ which are decided by the position of a pit at the center of a user’s retina. These pits are called fovea which lends its name to the technique. Vengeance, on the other hand, is defined as the simultaneous convergence of a user’s pupils during focusing to obtain the binocular vision.

All of these factors must be considered in order to achieve the best user experience. Other factors also include size, weight, and thermal management of the equipment in order to provide a pleasant and wearable product.

Virtual reality was discussed for many years with the first VR headset created by Morton Heilig in the 1950s. However, research into the technology started to gain momentum in the early 1990s.

Dr. Bernard Kress, Principal Optical Architect for Microsoft believes that the rapid evolution of optical technologies in recent years will be very beneficial for the AR and VR market.

Market analysts agree that the AR market will overtake the VR market as early as this year, 2018. The main revenues today and in previous years have come solely from VR systems, but revenues in the coming years will be ever-increasing for AR. Now we have MR, which combines the concepts of VR and AR in an architecture that is more flexible, capable of delivering to the user both experiences, through high-performance imaging, and combiner optics capable of producing a quasi-light-field over large fields of view. MR is supported by a battery of sensor technologies providing eye tracking, gesture sensing, depth map sensing, head tracking and iris authentication - all in a low-power and compact format.

Dr. Bernard Kress, Principal Optical Architect, Microsoft

There are many applications for virtual and augmented reality, but Microsoft and many other large technology companies are interested in artificial intelligence. The company is known to be actively researching AI integrated systems for virtual reality. In particular, they have identified image processing and optical sensors for MR, including 3D world scanning to create realistic hologram world locking and interaction.

We have one of the strongest optics teams on the planet, which continues to amaze me every day with its vision, inventiveness, excitement, and productivity.More Colors...

Dr. Bernard Kress, Principal Optical Architect, Microsoft

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