- MicroVision is already the leading manufacturer of projectors for augmented reality glasses. Microsoft uses these in its HoloLens 2.
- Completely surprisingly, virtually out of nowhere, MicroVision presented a display module for smart glasses a few days ago. This would be the world's smallest and lightest display module.
- It is even lighter and smaller than the smallest and lightest display module before, the Bosch Light Drive. Bosch likely needs licenses from MicroVision for it.
- Also completely surprisingly, the number two for MEMS after Bosch, the company STM, recently presented an alliance for daily wearable AR glasses, which is also based on MicroVision technology.
- This opens up another multi-million-dollar market for MicroVision with possible unit payments of several hundred million units. This should significantly increase the company's value by several dollars per share.
"Back to the roots" - completely surprising and out of nowhere, MicroVision (MVIS) presented a new display module for smart glasses a few days ago. Not just any display module. But the lightest and smallest in the world. This is MicroVision's return to its beginnings. MicroVision started with displays for eyes. But at the beginning of the new millennium, there were neither smartphones nor smart glasses. The time was not yet ripe for such displays, portable computers were not powerful and small enough. Now, ten to twenty years later, they are the "next big thing" according to Apple CEO Mr. Cook. MicroVision thus serves one of the most important future markets and is in the right markets at the right time. Previous smart glasses failed because they were too heavy and bulky. Successful smart glasses must certainly look like normal glasses. Filigree and chic. So far, no display module seems to have made it possible to create stylish glasses, which is probably why no major manufacturer has brought them onto the market. This is changing now. This article shows from the point of view of MicroVision shareholders that the new MicroVision display module for smart glasses is superior to all modules on the market and outperforms all competitors from all top tier companies to Vuzix (NASDAQ:VUZI), eMagin (NYSEMKT:EMAN) and Kopin (NASDAQ:KOPN). On the other hand, MicroVision shareholders would probably also earn money through licenses for the second smallest and second lightest module from Bosch (privately owned). Also from smart glasses from the new STM (STM) alliance for Smart Glasses that will be discussed here, too. STM is likely a licensee of MicroVision. This would give them a stake in smart glasses based on retinal projection (Bosch) and waveguides (Bosch, STM, and MicroVision). This would enable Bosch, STM, and MicroVision to serve a large part of the market for display modules for smart glasses, a market in which companies such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and also Samsung (OTC:SSDIF) will certainly enter soon. We are probably talking about quantities of several hundred million in the next few years. MicroVision could very well make a profit from these. E.g., the failed smart glasses from Vuzix, which were used for comparison purposes, show that technologies other than laser beam scanning (LBS) such as OLED and MicroLED are currently not mature enough for smart glass and are therefore not an alternative for manufacturers.
Business units & company value
The company has different divisions. Just as a company can manufacture cars and trucks, MicroVision manufactures projectors, LiDAR systems for cars and projectors for smart glasses, among others. An article about a company's cars has nothing to do with those for trucks. Likewise, my last article about MicroVision's LiDAR systems has nothing to do with the solutions for smart glasses discussed here.
Since the company is for sale, the value of the company is the sum of the values of the individual business units. In the last article, the value of the LiDAR division was calculated. Here the value of the division for smart glasses is now calculated.
Augmented Reality Hardware/Smart Glasses
Augmented Reality is one of the next big topics of the future next to self-driven cars.
Similar to the situation with self-driven cars, there are only announcements for hardware, but hardly any products in the actual sense, although there are already many AR applications for smartphones, for example: One of the best known is of course "Pokémon Go".
Pokémon Go is also a great example of how to use it - at the moment, it's only available on smartphones. A variant for glasses with gesture control would open up completely new playing possibilities.
A distinction must be made between holographic and non-holographic applications and devices. In other words, between devices like the HoloLens 2 and smart glasses. The former can also make virtual objects float three-dimensionally in space. Smart glasses are used to display information, e.g. for navigation.
After the flop of Google Glass, which was already introduced by Google X in 2014, there are still no smart glasses for everyone. One design flaw was the integration of a camera to capture the environment, which made everyone feel supervised and prohibited from using it in many places. In addition, the short battery life and the lack of applications. Finally, the screen was too small and because of the "screen" in front of it, it did not look like normal glasses.
But AR glasses for everyone are not dead.
MicroVision will probably be on the "next big thing"
For market success, AR glasses must look like eyeglasses and not like computer displays in front of the eyes, must be lightweight and wearable all day long, even for people who wear glasses. A camera would be rather obstructive and would again lead to wearing bans.
The real problem with AR glasses seems to be the display. A separate display module like in Google Glass or Vuzix destroys the appearance of the glasses and should therefore not be used in the future. Thus, approaches like Vuzix with OLED or MicroLED display mounted on the front of glasses are not conceivable for the mass market.
The image can therefore only be generated in the lenses themselves or in the eye. Screens could also be built into the lenses - but they would have to be as transparent as normal lenses. On the other hand, they should not be heavier and thicker than normal lenses. This seems technically unlikely at present. That leaves projection technology. Either on the lenses or in the eye.
Projections into glass can be based on the following technologies, among others:
Projectors into the eye are usually based on laser-based MEMS projectors.
So, a small display engine is needed.
For example, it is no secret that Apple is working on augmented reality (AR) products. While there are already applications for iPhones and iPads, the right hardware is still missing. It would be easier if information could be displayed right in front of your eyes instead of always having to look at an iPhone. It is to be expected that Apple will initially concentrate on information and games that can be displayed two-dimensionally and only later on will be able to display holographic objects, as Microsoft already does with HoloLens 2.
Apple is focused on end customers. For years, there has therefore been speculation about Apple Glasses, possibly also referred to as iGlasses. These were first used as accessories for iPhones. The wait is currently a bit like "Waiting for Godot". Speculated release dates are constantly being postponed further into the future. This could be due to the display.
To meet Apple's design demands, it probably wouldn't have to be particularly high-resolution at all, but above all small and light, so that it could be integrated almost invisibly into the frame of the glasses. To look chic. Are not heavy. So, like chic sunglasses with technology. These displays do not seem to have existed before, otherwise the glasses would probably already be on the market.
This year, at the CES 2020 as well as a few days ago, two different display modules were presented: From Bosch (private company) and MicroVision. Unnoticed by the public. Until now. This article should draw attention to them, because they would allow exactly such glasses from Apple and it is not unlikely that Apple could use one of them. If the competition, e.g. Microsoft, does not beat Apple to it.
According to Apple in January 2020, smart glasses are the "next big thing":
"I'm excited about AR," Cook said. "My view is it's the next big thing, and it will pervade our entire lives."
But where are they?
A detailed overview of the status of Apple Glasses and their ever-changing expectations and constantly postponed release dates provide, for example:
This quote gives a good indication of what is expected:
Will Apple push the bleeding edge of realistic holographic AR, or aim for style, a few key functions and build up from there? Undoubtedly, the latter. The first Apple Watch was feature-packed but still lacked some key things other watches had, like GPS and cellular connectivity. So did the first iPhone, which had neither an app store, 3G or GPS. Apple tends to market its new products at doing a few key things exceedingly well.
High-end mixed reality headsets like HoloLens 2 and Magic Leap, that show advanced 3D effects, are heavy. Smaller, more normal smart glasses like North Focals or Vuzix Blade are more like Google Glass used to be; they present bits of heads-up info in a flat 2D screen.
It seems unlikely that Apple will be able to shrink a Microsoft HoloLens 2 to normal glasses dimensions.
So, it seems more likely that Apple Glasses look more like North's. A company that Google just bought out for $180 million a few weeks ago. However, North's glasses required an elaborate measurement of the future wearer and individual production. This is unthinkable for Apple products. That's why Google stopped the production immediately.
However, there are now two display modules that could well overcome these disadvantages and thus make Apple smart glasses possible as early as 2021.
In addition, one of them comes from a long-time supplier of Apple, Bosch:
As one research firm put it last year: "Bosch completely crushed the competition." The German car parts maker won a contract to supply Apple with motion sensors, the semiconductor chips that detect whether a device is held horizontally or vertically and sense movements. The Bosch semiconductors are now part of Apple's iPhone X and enable people to play mobile games and use augmented reality.
The Apple contract, a defeat for Silicon Valley-based InvenSense, crowned Bosch's rise as a leading chip maker. The foundation-owned company already operates two chip factories in Germany, which produce the technology to control airbags, park your car automatically and measure how many miles you've jogged. More than half of all smartphones worldwide contain sensors made by the Bosch subsidiary Sensortech.
These motion sensors are supplied to Apple by Bosch Sensortec (wrong spelling in the quote above).
Bosch has won many orders from Apple largely unnoticed by the public, e.g. in 2017 according to "Another Apple supplier set to lose business as motion sensor orders placed with Bosch". See also Bloomberg.
This makes Bosch an important supplier for Apple.
At the beginning of the year, Bosch presented a new display module for smart glasses at the CES 2020 trade fair, which can be integrated almost invisibly into the frame of glasses. No special glasses are needed for this, as it projects directly into the eyes.
Bosch will certainly have presented the display module to Apple.
So here it is, the "Smart Glasses Light Drive" from Bosch Sensortec:
Source: Bosch Sensortec
At first glance it is obvious that it can be integrated almost invisibly into the frame of glasses. In addition, as also evident, the display allows the glasses to be folded up. This is not a matter of course but almost a "must have", because who wants to have glasses that cannot be folded? How should they be transported without breaking quickly? Almost all currently available smart glasses equipped with OLED or MicroLED projectors are not foldable.
Bosch on the other hand uses a laser-based MEMS projector to achieve this size. The projection is directly into the eye, so no special glasses are required. Therefore, they are also 100% transparent:
Summary of the features (Bosch Sensortec):
Source: Bosch Sensortec
The solution is also compatible with curved and corrective lenses.
privacy, for your eyes only, invisible to others
Press release from Bosch on CES 2020:
World's first all-day transparency smartglasses solution
Smallest Light Drive on the market: 30 percent less depth
Highly efficient, lightweight system, weighing less than 10 grams
Delivers high quality, bright images, even in direct sunlight
The Bosch Smartglasses Light Drive module is a sole source, all-in-one technology stack consisting of MEMS mirrors, optical elements, sensors, and onboard processing. This integrated solution delivers a clean visual experience with bright images that are always in focus - even in direct sunlight.
The Smartglasses Light Drive system is the smallest and lightest product on the market today and is, therefore, able to turn almost any regular spectacles into smartglasses.
The disruptive Bosch Light Drive technology revolutionizes all-day wearables with perceived total transparency for the user, and with radical social acceptance because it is nearly invisible to others.
There is no externally visible display or integrated camera, the two pitfalls that have alienated users of other smartglasses technologies
Smallest Smartglasses Light Drive solution on the market
The new complete turnkey Light Drive system is the smallest comparable solution available on the market, delivering a depth reduction of 30 percent compared to existing solutions. It measures approximately 45-75 mm x 5-10 mm x 8 mm (L x H x W, depending on customer integration) and weighs less than 10 grams.
The solution seems to be made for Apple (and of course other smart glasses manufacturers).
Bosch or customers will likely need licenses from MicroVision.
Europe's largest magazine for IT technology has already found this, while in the USA it has probably gone unnoticed so far: "Tried: Bosch Light Drive turns normal glasses into an invisible display".
the Bosch module is not only intended to produce a larger image, but also enable smaller designs. And who knows: Maybe this is the approach that Apple is taking with its data glasses, which has been speculated about for a long time.
It thus stands out from competing solutions, such as those offered by Vuzix, which are completely unsuitable for the mass market in all essential and for consumers, here the example of the Vuzix Blade.
However, it still seems to be too big, thick and heavy to replace normal glasses. Here, OLED or MicroLED projectors are coupled with a waveguide. The projector used by Vuzix, which is called "Cobra Display Engine" in the picture, can be found here.
Probably because the previous solution was unsuitable for consumers, the company recently announced a new generation of Smart Glasses:
Next Gen Smart Glasses
Introducing Vuzix's next generation smart glasses technology.
Already a world leader in Smart Glasses, Vuzix's next generation brings the perfect combination of style and function. Enhanced fully wireless connectivity made even more dynamic. With completely see-through advanced waveguide optics and revolutionary micro-LED display engines that can be used indoors or outside, Vuzix deliveries the future in smart glasses coming in 2021.
STYLE AND COMFORT
A sleek exterior leads to a tech-rich interior, delivering style and substance with a trendy, comfortable design, combining easy wearability with even greater utility, for an enhanced connected mobile experience.
It will be based on MicroLEDs. However, the company does not give any information about resolution, size, weight etc. Therefore, this solution is still in development (compare before). So, there is practically nothing known about it:
VUZIX ADVANCED OPTICS
Ultra-slim, binocular Waveguides powered by a pair of tiny, highly efficient micro-LED projectors, one for each eye, generating crisp video with contextual information. At 1 micron in size, the micro-LED's have one of the highest density pixel arrays available with both monochrome and full color solutions in development.
Vuzix is clearly behind Bosch for the market release and gives no specifications.
The Bosch module projects directly into the eyes, making normal lenses possible. It can therefore also be integrated into sunglasses.
Derive smart glasses from AR glasses
The expected smart glasses are not holographic glasses (augmented reality (AR) glasses) that provide three-dimensional representations as the Microsoft HoloLens 2, but rather "smart glasses" for two-dimensional representations like on computer screens. Microsoft has chosen MicroVision laser MEMS projectors for the "HoloLens 2" holographic glasses and has decided against OLED, MicroLED, DLP etc.
Source: "Microsoft Keynote HoloLens 2 at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019" on youtube (minute 21:01)
Source: Video "NEVER SEEN BEFORE! Microsoft HoloLens 2 Teardown" on youtube
So, why not now use proven technology also in future smart glasses?
MicroVision has therefore introduced a projector weighing only 4.4 grams, which could be manufactured very cheaply for probably $50 and could make smart glasses possible for the mass market.
It is the world's smallest and lightest display module for smart glasses, which would make glasses look like glasses. A basic requirement for the success of Smart Glasses. Nobody would want to walk around with ugly, clunky and relatively heavy glasses like those currently available from Vuzix.
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules" on youtube
MicroVision would only have to develop a suitable hinge to make the frame foldable:
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules" on youtube
Exploded view of the very small display module embedded in the frame:
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules" on youtube
The technology of the glasses is not a new development, but is based on projectors already proven in practice. The following MEMS with 720p resolution was already installed by Sony, so it is a mature technology:
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules"on youtube
The somewhat larger Gen 4 version is currently used by Microsoft in HoloLens 2 (compare before):
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules" on youtube
As you can see at first glance, there are worlds between these glasses (and those of Bosch) and those of Vuzix. Both are the first display modules that enable almost invisible projectors in spectacle frames.
The module even offers a 720p resolution - even videos could be played:
Source: Video "Augmented Reality Micro-Display modules" on youtube
Since this year, Dr. Mark B. Spitzer, who previously worked for Google X as "Director of Operations for Glass" as well as for the Google VR team, has been a member of the supervisory board at MicroVision. He has certainly examined the market opportunities and practical suitability of the module.
The MicroVision CEO explained this a few days ago in the conference call Q2 2020:
In the MicroVision Augmented Reality video, for example, we share a potential module design using our existing MEMS technology platform that could offer the lightest, smallest in volume, low power module with up to 40 degrees field of view packaged into eye wear that resembles frames currently accepted in the market. I believe one could see how our module in the design example would be compelling for a mass-market product.
It consists of already developed CAD models (see also screenshots before):
Our module illustrated in the video is based on existing design model files that are part of our intellectual property and body of work.
STM's new alliance for AR smart glasses
Just as completely surprisingly as MicroVision recently, the company STM presented its alliance for Smart Glasses at the beginning of October, which is also based on MicroVision technology. This is likely an answer of the Bosch module. Bosch is the number one for MEMS, STM the number two.
Press release from STM Microelectronics: "STMicroelectronics Launches LaSAR, an Ecosystem to Accelerate Development of Augmented-Reality Eyewear Applications": Excerpt with quotes from the responsible persons at STM and Osram:
"With its leadership developing and delivering in volume a high-performance, low-power, laser-beam scanning MEMS micro-mirror solution that combines MEMS mirrors, MEMS driver, laser driver, and control software, ST recognized the value of its technology to Augmented Reality and especially to Smart Glasses and Eyewear," said Anton Hofmeister, Vice President and General Manager MEMS Microactuator Division, STMicroelectronics.
"In working with Applied Materials, Dispelix, Osram, and Mega1 to bring their critical expertise to establish LaSAR, we see a powerful alliance of exceptional technical strength that aims to accelerate the adoption of Augmented Reality in comfortable Smart Glass eyewear through foundational developments."
"We constantly work to miniaturize and optimize our RGB (Red, Green, Blue) laser portfolio because we know size and power are critical parameters for our AR customers," explains Jörg Strauss, General Manager and Vice President of Visualization & Laser at Osram Opto Semiconductors. "Being a founding member of LaSAR enables us to contribute to the alliance's technical strength that will help resolve the system challenges of LBS adoption in all-day-wear AR eyewear."
STMicroelectronics had already presented its concept for smart glasses in 2019: "Augmented Reality Symposium STMicroelectronics - Laser Beam Scanners for AR/MR Near-Eye-Displays". This has now been updated and expanded into an alliance with well-known partners, such as Osram. Further details were given in the Webinar, "Laser Beam Scanning for Near-to-Eye Display Applications: A Preview". Abstract:
One of the key challenges for augmented reality is the development of ultra-compact, lightweight, low-power near-to-eye display solutions with good image quality. Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) technologies can meet these key requirements and deliver form-factors that enable light weight, fashionable, all-day wearable AR smart glasses with the ability to scale resolution and field-of-view (FoV).
In this preview of the seminar planned for Photonics West 2021, we will briefly highlight the key technologies and solutions behind LBS that enable AR smart glasses, as well as more complex mixed reality HMD devices, including MEMS Micromirror scanners systems, laser diode modules, waveguides and LBS systems design, integration and manufacturing considerations.
The speakers will briefly highlight the key technologies and solutions behind LBS that enable AR smart glasses.
- Bharath Rajagopalan, Director, Strategic Market Development at STMicroelectronics
- Stefan Morgott, Senior Manager Application Engineering, Osram Opto Semiconductors
- Naamah Argaman, Director of Product and Marketing, Applied Materials Josh Littlefield, EVP North America Sales Dispelix
- Yun-Cheng Liu, Senior Director, Optical Engine Division, Quanta Computer
- Marco Angelici, Director Microactuation BU, STMicroelectronics
- Makoto Masuda, COO, Mega1
STM (and/or Mega) seem to be the licensees of MicroVision. Since Mega is not a "leading global technology company", it appears to be STM:
MicroVision, Inc. Announces New License Agreement with a Leading Technology Company
Agreement includes a $10 million license fee in 2018
REDMOND, Wash., May 09, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- MicroVision, Inc. (NASDAQ:MVIS), a leader in innovative ultra-miniature projection display and sensing technology, today announced that it has entered into a license agreement with a leading global technology company to allow the licensee to use MicroVision's display technology to manufacture and sell display-only engines based on MicroVision reference designs. The agreement grants a worldwide, exclusive, five-year license to display-only technology. In order to maintain exclusivity, the licensee is required to purchase minimum quantities of MEMS and ASICs from MicroVision.
The new presentation confirms this. Excerpts from the presentation can be found on the Internet:
The following page clearly shows as "Optical Light Engine" a module from MicroVision:
STM about the relationship with MicroVision:
The recording of the complete event "Laser Beam Scanning for Near-to-Eye Display Applications: A Preview" by Bharath Rajagopalan (STMicroelectronics) on October 8th will be available here soon, so that interested readers can watch it there soon.
The excerpt concerning MicroVision is available here in a video:
MicroVision Question Answer: Bharath Rajagopalan - M2tM on Twitch (embedding was not possible; please click link)
An assessment of this by a former product manager of MicroVision:
To ST's credit, they acknowledged MVIS as "a great company," with "great technology" and that they are a "very strong, close partner" of STM, "across the board."
The formation of a full supply chain for consumer eyewear is a big step for MVIS.
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and with the LaSAR alliance representing a clear path-to-market in terms of the supply chain for MVIS eyewear (just add an OEM), it seems like for the long-time supporters of MVIS, that time is now upon us.
Good prospects for series production
Probably the new MicroVision display module for smart glasses has already been presented at Apple, Google, Samsung etc. as well as the Bosch module and the STM components.
Although most shareholders of other companies are unlikely to be aware of MicroVision's products, the author was certainly not the first to come up with the idea that MicroVision would be a perfect fit for companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and anyone else who wants to bring smart glass to market. MicroVision has approached over 100 companies through a consulting firm.
The MicroVision CEO has recently mentioned in a conversation with shareholders that a request for discussion from MicroVision has never been rejected by a large company in the last four years, even though MicroVision is only a small company. It is known that MicroVision is the technological leader in its business areas. This means that some large companies are likely to bid for MicroVision at the moment.
Another interesting tidbit, was Sumit talking about how respected and acknowledged MVIS is in the tech world amongst the big boys. (…) But his point was, and he's only been there about four years, is how remarkable and unusual it is for a tiny engineering tech start-up that when they contact the whales and say "We have something we think you will want to see". . . they GET THAT MEETING EVERY TIME. That just doesn't happen for most tiny tech engineering houses. But it does with MVIS. That lead into just a general description about how NONE of these big dogs dispute that MVIS tech, in its core competencies (i.e. LBS), is years ahead of the competition. None of them.
Again: MicroVision will probably be on the "next big thing"
With modules from Bosch, STM, and its own module, it is very likely that MicroVision will now benefit greatly from future smart glasses.
This allows MicroVision to sell products or licenses for three product lines:
- MicroVision Smart Glasses modules
- Licenses for
- Bosch Light Drive Module for smart glasses
- STM modules for smart glasses
For MicroVision, its shareholders or the buyer of the company, it ultimately makes no difference whether MicroVision sells its own module or sells licenses for the modules of its competitors.
It is often argued that MicroVision products are still under development. This is by no means true for the Bosch Drive module, which was already shown in a working version at the CES 2020. STM and Osram also already have all essential core components available.
Two market leaders are probably not wrong
The fact that two market leaders rely on LBS for smart glasses and not on other technologies indicates that these are actually better than other technical approaches. It is rather unlikely that two market leaders will invest massively and make a mistake. Thus, MicroVision seems to be on the right track not only with LiDAR technology, but also with smart glasses.
MicroVision currently offers the world's lightest and smallest display module for smart glasses.
According to a report by "MergerMarket", there is a great deal of interest from "top tier" companies in MicroVision's AR division, which includes Smart Glasses.
Extract from the report of 4 August 2020:
MicroVision attracts auto and augmented reality bidders for potential sale, CEO says
August 4, 2020
MicroVision, a Redmond, Washington-based laser sensing technology company, is seeing strong interest from bidders in the automotive and augmented reality space, said CEO Sumit Sharma.
The USD 336m market cap company announced in April that it had engaged Craig Hallum to sell all or part of the company, which holds IP and technology for laser sensing and scanning in four segments: automotive, augmented reality, consumer and interactive display.
Thus, a fair sales price, oriented to possible future profits, seems to be achievable.
Smart glasses based on MicroVision, Bosch or STM modules could reach a number of several hundred million units if Apple ("New Display Modules Can Finally Make The Apple Glasses A Reality", Samsung, Google ("A Once In A Lifetime Chance For Alphabet's Hardware Business, As Android Was For Software") or Microsoft ("HoloLens & Surface Glasses - Microsoft Possibly Shortly Before The Takeover Of MicroVision's AR Business"), for example, were to bring them onto the market. If MicroVision only made $5 profit per module or received $5 license fees, profits of $50 million to $5 billion could be achieved - with 10 million to 1 billion smart glasses sold.
This means that the company is undervalued on the stock market in terms of its smart glasses division alone. The division could generate at minimum $500 million. Or more. Maybe it could also generate $10 to $20 profit per module. However, the author deliberately always uses very conservative estimates, here only $5 per module profit.
Then there would be the other divisions. Automotive LiDAR, for example. This division should be worth $2 billion at the moment, based on the same valuation as Velodyne and Luminar LiDAR, whose technology is much worse (for details please read "MicroVision LiDAR Is Worth $2 Billion According To Valuation Of Velodyne And Luminar LiDAR By Ford, Baidu, Hyundai, Volvo").