Sep 30, 2021

Zemax CTO Industry Insights: How simulation is impacting the evolution of mixed reality

Category: Industry Trends
How simulation is impacting the evolution of mixed reality

The past several years have seen significant progress in the design and development of robust, scalable mixed reality systems. Innovation in mixed reality is fueled by a desire to combine the voluminous amount of data available to us today with a desire to apply that data to better manage/navigate/operate the environment we live, work, and seek entertainment in. Recent technological advancements have led to increased usability – and therefore adoption – of such systems, and it is exciting to see how these advances are creating demand for mixed reality in a variety of industries beyond traditional consumer markets, such as in defense1, manufacturing2, automotive3, and healthcare4-5.

One example illustrating the continuing maturation of mixed reality is the “graduation” of the SPIE AR | VR | MR conference from a satellite to SPIE Photonics West to being its own independent event6. Another example is the variety of presentations on the design and development of AR/VR systems showcased during our 2021 Zemax Envision conferences across the globe7. In many of these presentations, we saw how mixed reality has benefited by the drive towards miniaturization occurring throughout the optics and photonics industry. This drive has been enabled by advancements in both diffractive and catadioptric technologies.

One of the most interesting aspects about the current state of mixed reality system design is the lack of a clear-cut answer as to whether diffractive or refractive solutions are best suited to the industry. Although diffractive solutions – i.e. surface relief gratings and volume holographic gratings – have seen a significant amount of investment over the past several years, similar investments have been made in the development of so-called “modern geometries” – complex aspheres and freeforms – to support mixed reality. For example, with plastic molding enabling refractive components to be fabricated at smaller than ever sizes, such components are being used to construct high-performance mixed reality systems8 with high brightness and low impacts from stray light. However, the smallest AR systems are still currently being developed using diffractive components, and systems developed with these components offer increased privacy and security because they can restrict visualization of generated images from unintended viewers. Thus, both diffractive and catadioptric solutions remain viable in creating robust, scalable mixed reality systems.

This is where simulation plays a pivotal role. Simulation empowers engineers and scientists designing and developing mixed reality systems to determine the best solution for their application through detailed yet efficient investigation, exploring various trade-offs to design a system with optimal as-built performance. I am proud that Zemax offers a suite of tools to support engineers in the design of both diffractive9-10 and catadioptric11-12 solutions for AR/VR, and in doing so is supporting development of the next generation of mixed reality systems. Recent news highlights the growing presence of mixed reality in the consumer space13-14, being driven in large part by the miniaturization of the supporting technologies for these systems. As such, mixed reality is now beginning to achieve some of the goals initially laid out for it many years ago. The journey for AR/VR is now taking off, and I for one am excited to be a part of the ride!

To learn more about the Zemax suite of optical design software tools, contact us today!


Sanjay Gangadhara
Chief Technology Officer
Zemax, LLC