You might not have heard of Dispelix, but the name is worth noting. The Finnish startup is a components manufacturer. That is to say, they don’t make headsets, they make parts that go into headsets. Specifically, they make optics. More specifically, they make waveguides and proprietary software for those waveguides.
So, what has Dispelix been up to? Quite a bit. ARPost spoke with Vice President of Business Development, Pia Harju, to learn more.
Leading the Way on Waveguides
Waveguides are one approach to AR displays that involve redirecting light onto a lens, kind of like a micro version of a projector and screen. The waveguide is the screen and the projector is called a “light engine.” Of course, there are a lot of other components too, that do things like sending the images to the light engine to be projected onto the waveguide.
“We have the waveguide, but a waveguide doesn’t do much without many other components,” said Harju. “When we have these developments that we do together we say ‘Now that we have this technology we can do this with it to make it more efficient.’ And that’s a very technical discussion.”
The company considered making other components – light engines, for example – but deemed that it was more productive to expand partnerships with other specialized component manufacturers. In fact, the last time that Dispelix talked to ARPost it was to announce a partnership with light engine manufacturer Avegant.
Partnerships and Products
ColorChip makes small optical components and circuits. These make the end-product smaller, but also contribute to energy efficiency – both important elements of head-mounted displays.
“They have an innovative way to miniaturize the optics. It’s a very different industry,” said Harju. “They make a very small light engine. It’s a perfect fit for the AR market.”
Maradin makes mirrors for both displays (directing images from the light engine to the waveguide) and for scanning, including laser-based applications. Harju said that Maradin’s products work particularly well with both the existing Dispelix stack and with ColorChip. These partners were specifically chosen for an upcoming “standard product family.”
“The compatibility component is a bit challenging and this product line is a bit more challenging,” said Harju.
For the most part, Dispelix works with companies with custom specifications for which Dispelix makes bespoke products. This will still be a main line of work, though offering a standard product family will allow the company to more easily work with producers that have less specific needs.
“They can be used as a reference and for companies that want to do a full run and don’t want to do something custom with all of that research and development,” said Harju. “Bigger companies don’t want to have the same design as their neighbors next door.”
Since we last spoke with Dispelix the company also announced a partnership with JBD, an advanced MicroLED manufacturer. That partnership will primarily focus on research and development.
Dispelix in the Ecosystem
Harju came to Dispelix fairly recently, specifically to work on partner relationships. She’s in Germany, though the company of over 140 employees also has offices in California, China, and Taiwan. The company’s headquarters are in Finland where Photonics Finland recently named Dispelix “Company of the Year.”
“Finland has a very strong optics university. … That’s where a lot of strength in the optics industry in Finland comes from,” said Harju. “To some extent also, the heritage of Nokia and what they used to do. … That know-how helps to have a lot of general optics interest and involvement.”
This helps Dispelix develop its product, but it also helps them build relationships with other companies, which is crucial to any component manufacturer. According to Harju, these relationships are what make announcements like these so important – not just to the companies involved, but to the entire industry.
“For the AR community, it’s always interesting to see who is working with what,” said Harju. “That is why we make these announcements.”
Eyes on the Prize
It can be easy to overlook the companies making components like waveguides – particularly for consumers who are most interested in end-products that they can actually get their hands on. However, every piece of tech used by consumers, enterprise users, and everyone, starts with components manufacturers like Dispelix and partnerships like these.