28 Mar 2023
Sharp and others back Fraunhofer spin-out developing MEMS-based approach for AR/VR glasses.
OQmented, a startup company in northern Germany that is developing tiny laser beam scanning (LBS) engines for use in augmented and virtual (AR/VR) glasses, has raised $20 million in a series A round of venture finance.
Based in Itzehoe, near Hamburg, OQmented is a spin-out from the local Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology - and maintains a close relationship with the institution for its current MEMS device production.
Taking part in the funding round were existing investors Salvia and Vsquared Ventures, as well as the Japanese electronics giant Sharp, whose extensive manufacturing expertise can now be tapped.
Founded in 2018 by “co-CEOs” Thomas von Wantoch and Ulrich Hofmann, OQmented has since grown to employ around 80 people at five different locations across Germany and Silicon Valley - including an optics research center in Jena established last year.
“Big tech companies and other players are racing to accomplish consumer AR glasses that are ultimately able to replace the smart phone,” said von Wantoch in a company release announcing the new funding.
“There is overwhelming demand for our product, and we will use the series A funds to accelerate getting our light engines ready for the market.
“We are excited that we gained Sharp as a strategic investor with years of experience as one of the largest suppliers for displays and electronic devices. Our unique cooperation bundles enormous know-how and enables us to offer an unmatched one-stop-shop solution to our customers: a light engine with integrated MEMS, electronics, and laser.”
Speaking during the SPIE AR/VR/MR conference held in San Francisco last month, von Wantoch described how the firm’s technology, based around biaxial MEMS mirrors, offered advantages including a lower power consumption, smaller size, higher brightness and contrast, and superior display performance, compared with other AR/VR approaches.
“All of these are requirements for lightweight consumer AR glasses, suitable for outdoor use,” adds the company, whose current laser light engines are able to deliver a 50 lumen output from a device no larger than a sugar cube.
In San Francisco, von Wantoch said that OQmented was aiming to release a new light engine occupying less than 0.75 cm3 later this year, and to reduce that size below 0.5 cm3 in 2024, and then to less than 0.2 cm3.
He pointed out that having two scanning axes on the mirrors made for more efficient size and performance overall, delivering a small etendue, with light only generated where it was needed and fast image generation to ensure good visual perception.
Hemispheric optics also help to deliver a wide field of view for the wearer, and the optical MEMS devices can all be produced on an industrial scale in semiconductor wafer fabs.
The company is also working on technology aimed at a much more immersive AR/VR experience - thus demanding a larger field of view - although this is said to be at a much earlier stage of development.
Commenting on the newly established relationship David Woodward, the president of Sharp Devices Europe GmbH, stated:
“We look forward to accelerating our cooperation with OQmented and to realizing the developing market of all-day wearable augmented and mixed reality glasses, along with the many differentiated markets that will eventually benefit from the key technologies and innovations driven by OQmented.
“Thomas and Ulrich are leading a fast-moving startup company with a growing team of highly motivated dynamic staff, demonstrating leading edge innovation. We are very excited to utilize the many synergies available between OQmented and Sharp’s own technologies and device industrialization.”
OQmented, which had previously raised around $20 million in seed funding, also signed a strategic collaboration with Brussels-based VoxelSensors late last year.
Using so-called “Lissajous” patterns, the aim is to develop a fast and highly efficient system capable of operating in low-light conditions, and at a repetition rate of up to 100 MHz.
“The solution is based on laser beam scanning technology to deliver accurate and reliable 3D sensing without compromising on power consumption, data latency, or size,” said the two firms at the time.