Israeli optical breakthrough poised to change the world of mobile entertainment

Lumus-Optical’s lightweight, fashionable video eyeglasses provide users with a personal high tech video display.In today’s on-the-go world, people want their entertainment and information to move with them – whether they’re watching their favorite TV show on the beach or viewing …

Lumus-Optical’s lightweight, fashionable video eyeglasses provide users with a personal high tech video display.In today’s on-the-go world, people want their entertainment and information to move with them – whether they’re watching their favorite TV show on the beach or viewing a downloaded movie while commuting on a train or bus.

That’s why trendy mobile phones and ipods with video features are big sellers throughout the US. But the problem with most of portable digital gadgets on the market is that you have to squint to see the picture. Unless you want to lug around a laptop, peering into a tiny screen on an ipod, cell phone, or even one of the new palm-sized portable video recorders (PVR) may get the job done, but they’re no match for the full large-screen viewing experience.

That’s where Lumus comes in. The Israeli company has developed ‘designer’ eyeglasses with proprietary optic lenses which promise to make the squint problems passé. Lightweight, fashionable, and offering a large see-through screen with high resolution in full color, Lumus is set to lead a new era in video viewing.

The Lumus stylish frames are attached to a miniature projector/LCD microdisplay on the side of each lens. The display recreates the image from a media source, reflects it, and transmits it to the optic lens where prisms and mirrors enlarge the image which the eye sees.

“It is as if you are watching a 60-inch TV from 10 feet away,” Lumus business development manager Ari Grobman told ISRAEL21c.

That impression is thanks to Lumus’ unique technology, called the Light-guide Optical Element (LOE) – a sliver of flat glass or plastic that incorporates a set of embedded partially reflecting facets, delivers a virtual image to the eye. This results in an exit image that is much larger than the original image, and includes a wide (virtual) big screen.

The Lumus eyewear which is due to be ready for consumers next year is already making a splash, with Popular Science featuring it in their September issue. And it earned high praise from Insight Media, in its “Mobile Display” report in November, which read: “The beauty of the design is that the light-guide (lens) is thin, about 2mm, but offers a large surface area… It makes the product more like ‘video-eyeglasses’…”

In Lumus’ office in Rehovot’s high tech science park, the inventor of the video eyeglasses, Dr. Yaakov Amitai, is excitedly giving ISRAEL21c a demonstration of the product to a reporter.

“What do you see when you look through these glasses?” asked Amitai.

The answer was Nemo – swimming around in full animated view, with no video player or DVD anywhere around. Then, Amitai stands behind the big virtual screen and demonstrates another feature of the startup company’s product: the Lumus image is transparent and Amitai can be seen through the ‘screen’. The viewer’s vision is not blocked by a screen.

This ‘see-through’ technology was the result of Amitai’s research after he left his position as the head of the optics group at El-Op, Israel’s largest electro-optic systems manufacturer.

“I was working on optical switching technology, when I suddenly had a flash of insight. It was a Eureka moment. I realized that by utilizing methods which I intended to use for switching optical channels I can find the solution for a complex optical paradigm that has baffled physicists for almost 100 years: how to project a wide image through a thin transparent plate that could then be reflected into one’s eye. This ‘holy grail’ became the basis for Lumus’ see-through screen, which would circumvent previously considered optical limitations,” Amitai told ISRAEL21c.

With over 35 patents to his credit, plus 70 scientific publications, Amitai had an entrepreneurial sense that the LOE invention was groundbreaking and would transform the mobile personal display industry. But it still wasn’t easy to gain financing for Lumus, which he founded in 2000, a down year for investment amid skepticism about innovative technology. However, by the end of the year, seed funding came from an Israeli VC firm, CapVentures, managed by Dr. Michael Anghel, who understood from day one the tremendous potential for Lumus’ technology.

In January 2005, Motorola Ventures invested in Lumus as did Jerusalem Global Ventures whose investors include Time Warner, Agilent, Bank of America, China Development Industrial Bank, Bausch & Lomb, Motorola.

Lumus has spent five years in research, refining the technology, and enhancing the resolution of the image. Their latest prototype boasts high VGA resolution with 640 x 480 pixels, and can even be extended. Previous headsets used 320 x240 pixels. Effort has also gone into making the product even smaller, more compact, and lightweight. The weight of the entire headset is going to be less than 50 grams.

According to Amitai, amid the competition in the marketplace only Lumus uses new optic technology, while others use a limiting miniaturization. And more importantly for appearances sake, the headsets already on the market have the disadvantage of looking like goggles – because they are goggles – and a person wearing them in public could feel very conspicuous.

In addition, said Amitai, the goggles do not offer a transparent image, only some peripheral viewing. That rules out the possibility of ‘Augmented Reality’, an overlap image that can be used to demonstrate or serve as a tutorial in a detective search and for military purposes.

“The possibilities of applications for our LOE boggle the imagination,” said Grobman. The company is already working on integrating its technology into future consumer products, with talks and negotiations underway with several of the top players in the field of communication and entertainment.

“Our technology delivers a whole new way of living, working and enjoying movies, TV, and video games. And, you can bet the transparent image it projects can offer big benefits for the visually and hearing-impaired people, and anyone who has to stand in front of a crowd and make a speech or presentation,” Grobman said. “We are talking about a generic revolution that will eventually convert a standard pair of glasses into a high tech display.”

A recent feature called “Tech Pioneers,” in TIME Magazine gave a glimpse into the new reality of personal video display with a focus on the goggle-like product on the market. Existing headgear has drawbacks, noted TIME: “It’s tough bringing science fiction into the streets…” Will the product become trendy? “Not until the gear stops drawing stares from passersby.”

Lumus’ prototype video glasses can already get by in a crowd. And, as Lumus’ technology is embedded in a host of electronic consumer products, it seems a winning wager to bet that Amitai’s invention will become a “must have” in mobile video personal displays.

Lumus will be demonstrating its see-through “designer” video glasses at the CES-07 (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas (Booth IP220) in early January.