Lumus shows off the latest of its increasingly tiny augmented reality displays

As Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook all look towards getting augmented reality glasses out into the market to push their vision of the world directly into viewers’ eyeballs, they’re running into a common challenge. While these tech titans have grown familiar with miniaturizing complex technologies, AR displays are an area where the technology is still requiring a lot of R&D to push breakthroughs.

“The optics is really where you see a bottleneck in all of these solutions,” Lumus CEO Ari Grobman tells TechCrunch.

Lumus is at CES this year showing off its latest builds and highlighting a new form factor it hopes to have ready in Q2 of this year that brings a complicated display technology smaller than its ever been before.

The company builds what are called reflective waveguides. The interesting, rather sleek pieces of display technology rely on microscopic etchings in transparent glass lenses that catch light being projected into their edges. While these systems are limited in how much of a viewer’s field-of-view they can fill, they are unparalleled in the small form factors they can reach and will likely be what powers your first pair of smart glasses.

The company gathered headlines recently as it reached a deal with Quanta, a manufacturer used by Apple, to begin building AR displays. The Israeli company has raised $57 million from companies including Quanta, Alibaba and HTC.

TechCrunch had a first look at their latest design. Lumus’s newest reflective waveguide display packages a 40-degree top-down field-of-view waveguide into a form factor far more compact than we’ve seen in recent smartglasses products. Compared to Lumus’s earlier offerings, the tiny display is much sharper, now sporting 1080p resolution.

Interestingly, Grobman also noted that nearly every serious partner is looking at a “binocular” solution, meaning the use of one of their displays over each eye, giving a 3D effect. This contrasts with solutions like Google Glass which notably just used a single display.

Grobman says that the company’s latest display is “better than everything else that’s out there.” With strong manufacturing partners already, Lumus is also better positioned than most to get their display tech into upcoming AR products.

I had a chance to try a few solutions utilizing the company’s tech and found that while the field-of-view is still a bit smaller than most users might like in a consumer product, the display is extremely powerful, pushing crisp graphics that are importantly very bright. In a moderately sunny room, the waveguide displayed images of a rocket that was bright enough to nearly block out the real world person that was walking in front of me.

Compared to competitors like Magic Leap, who are talking loudly about how their technology enables depth-of-field, what Lumus is building still sits on a single focal plane, though Grobman said that partners can modify the lenses to exhibit similar visual effects. For Lumus, the product roadmap largely points to displays with wider field-of-views and increasingly smaller form factors.

“We’re tirelessly trying to obsolete our own technology,” Grobman said.