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The AR revolution starts in Twente

Paul van Gerven
Leestijd: 3 minuten

If, in a couple of years, you’re finding your way around town using visible cues projected onto your glasses, you may have Dutch startup Brilliance from Enschede to thank for it.

Having just returned from the SPIE Photonics West Exhibition in San Francisco, co-founders Tim Tiek and Douwe Geuzebroek of Brilliance RGB couldn’t be in a better mood. They had conversations with hundreds of people, many of them employed by Big Tech, and were left with two distinct impressions. One: the AR/VR train has left the station. And two: the particular approach to AR for which Brilliance is developing a key component looks like a winner. “It’s now a matter of how big this is going to get, and how soon,” says Geuzebroek, who has assumed the role of CTO in the Enschede-based startup.

“In the hype cycle, we’ve moved past the trough of disillusionment, and are working toward commercial applications of AR and VR. You can ask anyone in the field, I don’t think you’ll find many dissenting voices. Every major consumer tech company is working on it,” CEO Tiek chimes in. VR – big devices for use at home – are likely to stick with displays, but AR – for use in a variety of settings, including social ones – requires another approach.

A wafer with Brilliance’s devices. Credit: Brilliance

Scalability

Brilliance leverages silicon nitride-based photonic integrated circuits (PICs) to create tiny, energy-efficient RGB laser modules for AR glasses. Integrated into the frame, these light engines project colorful images onto transparent lenses without blocking the wearer’s view. Crucially, ambient light shouldn’t drown out the augmented-reality layer, even outdoors on a sunny day. This is where Brilliance’s chip really shines, Geuzebroek explains. “We’re able to generate a lot of light from a tiny form factor using relatively little power, which obviously is important for a portable device.”

“Additionally, we’re able to control the shape of the laser beam as it exits the chip. We initially didn’t realize how important this is, but it allows for easy alignment of the different colors in the projected image,” says Tiek. “Add to that the scalability and low cost of our technology, and the fact that we can easily customize designs to meet customer requirements, and you can see why we have high hopes for our product.”

Spirit of cooperation

Last year, Brilliance sold demonstrator chips to several customers. Based on their feedback, the PIC design has been tweaked and once again been sent to the foundry for a new production run. As time passes, volumes will go up, though it will take at least a couple of years before consumer devices hit the shelves. “But I do think our laser modules could become the first integrated-photonics product to reach massive volumes,” asserts Tiek.

Geuzebroek: “We’re able to scale quickly thanks to the Photondelta ecosystem. I sometimes joke that we’re a startup with twenty years of experience. We’re working with Lionix International for design and manufacturing, Phix for assembling and packaging, and others in the ecosystem. The spirit of cooperation in these parts is a bigger strength than many realize. In Silicon Valley, it’s easier to raise money, but you’ll have to do the rest all by yourself.”

This article was written in close collaboration with Photondelta. Main picture credit: Brilliance

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