What’s in a Waveguide?

When you call the Extended Reality (XR) innovation ecosystem home as we do, “waveguide” is an embedded term in the corporate lexicon. What’s a waveguide you ask? It’s an essential component of the XR devices captivating both industrial users and consumers, igniting a new category of computing experience.

Waveguides are a thin piece of glass or plastic that have been embedded with light-transmitting capabilities. Their main function in Extended Reality (XR) devices is to manipulate light and deliver a transparent image into the eye in the form of an augmented visualization. They rely on a combination of advanced substrates and high-index resins, which makes it an “innovation sweet spot” for Pixelligent. In fact, we recently launched our newest product for this application. We call it PixCor™. It dramatically improves resistance to near-UV and UVA light exposures in nanoimprintable formulations in Extended Reality and other applications, and it’s only available in our PixNIL® product line.

The response to this product release has been overwhelming. So, we asked CEO Craig Bandes to say more about the innovation. Here is his conversation with Pixelligent’s Blog Staffer (PBS).

PBS: When did Pixelligent start developing materials for waveguides?

CB: We started focusing on this market early on when we discovered that nanoparticles such as titania (TiO2) with HRI values of up to 2.0 in the visible light spectrum could vastly improve the field of view (FoV) in XR waveguide designs. FoV refers to the observable virtual world that can be seen when using the XR headset. A larger FoV—or viewing box—creates a richer viewing experience.

Not surprisingly, the drive to improve FoV with innovative technologies is relentless, given that this is the feature responsible for delivering the most immersive user experience. As we had already established a global reputation as the leader in high-index materials, customers approached us about developing a high-quality, transparent titania nanocrystal. These demands spurred the development of our PixClear® TiO2 nanocrystals and our PixNIL® formulations. The solution can create diffractive optical elements and planarized films with RI values of up to 2.0 at 520 nm. If these values sound unprecedented, they are. In fact, they’re a breakthrough for the XR industry. Because although HRI glass substrates were already available, there were no RI-matching nanomaterials. Now, with HRI substrates AND HRI materials, the path to commercialization for next-gen XR devices has become shorter.

PBS: What trends sparked the development of PixCor?

CB: When technologies are constantly crossing new frontiers as they are in the XR ecosystem, challenges invariably arise. Advanced materials are no exception. For us, it was about making TiO2 more resilient to light without sacrificing its outstanding performance capabilities. While it is peerless for HRI values, low haze, and transparency, our PixNIL and PixClear titania can absorb UV light at certain wavelengths. The photocatalytic activity can degrade the optical films and components and produce a “yellowing” effect. Think of it like a soft haze on your glasses, then imagine how the haze diminishes the image quality. Developing a fix to mitigate UV light absorption was a natural challenge for our materials experts. PixCor is the result.

PBS: What more can you tell us about PixCor?

CB: PixCor works by passivating the TiO2 nanocrystal surfaces with layers that suppress the photocatalytic activity. The solution is enabled by a proprietary shell that surrounds the PixClear® titania particle. The films containing PixCor technology demonstrate the lowest UV absorption available on the market while maintaining low haze, high transparency, industry-leading HRI values, and robust nanoimprintability properties. PixCor is an excellent addition to our PixNIL product portfolio and the ideal option for customers that are more focused on reducing absorption in the visual spectrum than maximizing the refractive index.  For those interested in a deeper dive, there’s more information available here. And we welcome requests for technical briefings for relevant applications.

PBS: Are Pixelligent’s products used in commercial XR devices yet?

CB: Yes. We can’t name customers, but we’re proud to say that our materials are being used in commercial XR devices. There are currently numerous companies throughout the XR supply chain and across the globe engaged at various stages of qualifying our PixNIL products, including PixCor.

PBS: Is XR a high-growth space for Pixelligent?

CB: Yes. The market is currently valued at around $35 billion. By 2030 it is expected to reach $346 billion, growing annually by 33% between now and then. We saw increased momentum at Display Week last May, where XR technologies stole the show. And since then, exciting new products have hit the market.

It’s not just about the cool headgear and the amazing computing experience. It is also about the ecosystem that provides the sensors, optical engines, substrates, displays, and other material technologies that collectively enable the user experience. The pace of innovation is breathtaking, and while there are formidable technical hurdles for products to become mass production-ready, it is a thrilling space to call home.

PBS: When will XR devices become more lightweight and suitable for extended wear?

CB: The drive to create lightweight, stylish headgear involves relentless miniaturization of enabling hardware technologies. It is an ongoing process. Creating packages with miniaturized sensors and new photonics technologies is no small task. But it is already happening. On the materials front, the emphasis is on getting the optics that drive the waveguide just right, which is table stakes for XR products to become as ubiquitous as the other mobile computing devices that we use every day.

PBS: Where does Pixelligent make its materials?

CB: Right here in Baltimore. We are fortunate to be headquartered in a region that increasingly supports innovation, is home to world-class universities and colleges, and draws top talent. In fact, given the growing demand for our products in global markets, we’ve been steadily expanding our team, adding executives to lead manufacturing, product development, sales & marketing, and more.

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