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Kopin optimistic after all-plastic 'Pancake' optics launch

16 Mar 2022

But losses widen as microdisplay maker develops new optics and navigates supply chain constraints.

Kopin, the Massachusetts-based developer of optical microdisplays, has reported a sharp increase in annual losses, despite a steady uptick in sales.

For 2021, the firm posted a pre-tax loss of $13.6 million, as increased costs more than offset a 14 per cent increase in revenues to $45.7 million. The equivalent loss figure for 2020 was $4.4 million.

Describing 2021 as “both an exciting and challenging year”, long-time CEO John Fan said that so far the company had managed to prevent shipment disruptions due to supply chain constraints.

“The demand for our product is excellent, and our 2022 bookings are very strong,” he told an investor conference call discussing the latest results, before warning:

“However, our optimism must be balanced with the issues around the global supply chain, which many industries are continuously facing.”

Birefringence problem 'solved'
Part of the reason for the wider loss in 2021 was a sharp increase in research and development spending - partly on Kopin’s new all-plastic “Pancake” optics, which can be paired with organic light emitting diode (OLED) microdisplays for augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) applications.

“In many ways, optics are just as critical as displays in achieving a great AR/VR experience,” Fan told investors, adding that the patent-pending technology offered excellent performance while enabling smaller and lighter headgear.

The latest “P80” all-plastic Pancake optics are said to provide a very sharp, 77° field-of-view (FOV) image with very long (23 mm) eye relief and large (12 mm-diameter) eye box - critical parameters for the AR/VR experience.

“We believe our all-plastic Pancake optics are the first in the world, providing critical components for VR headsets,” Fan added in the investor call, explaining that previous versions of the optics technology required at least one circular glass lens to avoid creating image defects due to the birefringence of plastic materials.

Glass components tend to add both weight and production complexity to headset designs, while the new two-element Kopin design is said to offer aspherical plastic lenses with virtually no birefringence - meaning better image quality, smaller size, lighter weight and lower cost than anything previously available.

“Providing critical components for VR headsets that are thin, lightweight, comfortable and easy to use has been a long-term objective of ours,” Fan said, adding: “I'm glad to say, we have solved the plastic birefringence issue.”

Strong order backlog
Kopin has also been working with partners to develop microLEDs, and combined with other efforts Fan said that the firm now has a very strong backlog of orders, and - supply chain issues notwithstanding - expects 2022 to represent another year of solid growth.

In December Kopin booked a $19.8 million order for its eyepiece sub-assembly, described as a critical component in the US Army's “Family of Weapon Sight-Individual” (FWS-I) thermal sight systems.

That system uses a transparent AR optical module that combines the firm’s LCDs with customized Pancake optics.

“This is the second large production order received by Kopin for the FWS-I eyepiece sub-assembly,” Kopin said at the time, adding that deliveries were mostly scheduled to ship in 2022.

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