LetinAR, a Korean startup developing a new optical solution for augmented reality (AR) smart glasses, recently raised $3.6 million in Series A funding, led by Kakao Ventures, Naver Corporation, DSC Investment, Korea Asset Investment Securities, and Platinum Technology Investment.
LetinAR, a member company of the K-ICT Born2Global Centre, develops an optical system for AR smart glasses, which plays the same role as smartphone displays. The optical system consists of LetinAR's self-developed "Pin Mirror (PinMR) lens" and a microdisplay made by external partners.
Current smart glasses manufacturers such as Google, Microsoft, and Magic Leap use traditional optical systems such as half-mirror, diffractive optical elements (DOEs), and waveguides to build the devices. Under-par performance of those optical systems has hardly satisfied users and experts. The bulky body, narrow field of view (FOV), complicated manufacturing process, and inaccurate color expression have long been a stumbling block for successful commercialization of AR smart glasses.
LetinAR's PinMR lens is set to replace such displays. The company has applied the so-called "pinhole effect" to tiny mirrors and embedded them with eyeglass lenses. Respective PinMR reflects the light from a microdisplay and guides the light into human pupils. Users may view the virtual image from the microdisplay as well as the image from the real world at ease. Human eyes cannot detect the mirrors because the mirrors are smaller than human pupils. Only the virtual image formed by the light reflected by those mirrors becomes visual.
With LetinAR PinMR lens, smart glasses manufacturers can build smart glasses worn like a pair of conventional glasses. The simple structure of PinMR lens module can facilitate mass production. PinMR lens shows up to 66% wider virtual screen than the currently available optical systems while more accurately expressing colors -- an edge over diffraction-based or refraction-based systems from competitors. PinMR lens can also show a clear image without inducing dizziness because it is able to extend the depth of field (DOF) multiple times.
LetinAR plans to supply PinMR lens as a complete module, which consists of PinMR™ lens and a microdisplay from external partners.
"We have developed PinMR technology, a new way to overcome the technical barriers that have long existed in the AR industry. LetinAR PinMR optical solution boasts much more superior performance than existing counterparts," said LetinAR CEO Jaehyeok Kim. "We believe that PinMR lens will fundamentally change the way people communicate in the near term."
LetinAR successfully demonstrated the potential of PinMR™ lens replacing existing optical systems at the Consumer Electronics Show and Mobile World Congress in 2018. In 2019, LetinAR is set to demonstrate its mechanism and showcase samples at the CES and MWC.
LetinAR will begin providing PinMR lens samples next year, making it possible for smart glasses manufacturers to evaluate the potential of using PinMR lens for their own products.
"Two biggest Korean internet companies investing a single hardware startup is very unusual. We are thrilled to help LetinAR bring their innovative product to market," said Gi-Joon Kim, partner of Kakao Ventures. "Several tech giants have tried to build AR glasses. However, due to the complicated optical system they employ, no one has succeeded in coming up with AR glasses with a look of a pair of ordinary glasses. With an outstanding team of developers, LetinAR has solved this problem and is ready to completely transform this growing industry. We will fully support LetinAR growing into an industry leader."
With smaller form factor, larger field of view, wider depth of field in addition to accurate color expression, LetinAR PinMR will be capable of replacing existing optical systems for AR glasses. LetinAR PinMR lens can be produced with a simpler manufacturing process than traditional optical systems. LetinAR PinMRModule will be offered on order-basis, and samples will be available for purchase at https://letinar.com from next year.