Augmented reality glasses have thus far been more fantasy than reality.
But a new partnership could make it easier and cheaper for big brands to enter the market. WaveOptics, a developer of AR technology, said on Thursday that it's teaming up with EV Group to bring lenses for AR glasses to the market next year.
The deal would make it possible for consumer electronics companies such as Apple or Samsung to quickly scale production up or down — a key feature for companies that ship millions of products. And the prices of the lenses would be cheap enough that they could sell full headsets for $600.
WaveOptics isn't yet naming any customers, but AR has been mentioned as a top priority by companies including Apple, Facebook and Snap, and each will likely to need to work with a lens designer like WaveOptics.
Vuzix, a WaveOptics rival, said last month that 10 new customers have signed non-disclosure agreements "and are actively performing due diligence" on the company's lenses. In December, two other companies — Lumus and Apple supplier Quanta — struck a deal for headsets that will cost $1,000 or less.
WaveOptics' designs along with EV's machines will develop lenses called "waveguides." The machines could be put in a company's existing factories with a lead time of about 4 months.
To date, the smart glasses market has been fraught with clunky, expensive products and fierce competition. Snap CEO Evan Spiegel told Wired this week that hardware was holding augmented reality back, and Apple CEO Tim Cook told Vogue last year that "the technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way."
"Something that you would see out in the market any time soon would not be something that any of us would be satisfied with," Cook said.
WaveOptics CEO David Hayes said his company is agnostic to operating systems and wants to help big companies customize their products. WaveOptics uses stamp-like technology that's more dependable than handmade glass, he said, and can be used in medical devices as well as devices for petrochemicals.
"This is the first time that people can build affordable products in a repeatable mechanism," he said.
Karl Guttag, an industry blogger, wrote recently that companies are still racing to get a less-than-perfect technology up to snuff for products hitting the market coming years. After seeing multiple headsets, he said that "what makes WaveOptics stand out a bit is that they support both glass and a lower cost plastic waveguides whereas most other waveguide makers only use glass."