Making Augmented Reality a Reality

The market for microLEDs is young but rapidly growing, doubling in size every two years. It is above all a key enabler for augmented reality applications, which is a highly current market. Developing a bottom-up microLED with unmatched pixel size, brightness and energy efficiency, Polar Light Technologies is becoming a leading player on the market, enabling a great variety of optical applications. With the fantastic new results from this year’s transferal to a production grade reactor and process tuning, we are now entering an exciting optimization journey and setting our sights on the Head-Up Display and Head-Mounted Display market.  

Polar Light Technologies innovation is born from unique and long research made by the company’s founder, Professor Per-Olof Holtz. Over the years the dedicated development team has refined and improved the technology and today PLT is a great enabler in several applications within augmented reality (AR), such as Head-Up Displays (HUD) and Head Mounted Displays (HMD), a market that the company has chosen to address as their primary market. To begin with, Polar Light Technologies is targeting industry and other professional applications where AR can make a great difference, but the aim is to eventually also make applications for personal usage. CEO Peter Nilsson states that the biggest demand in the market today is for technology that fulfills all the requirements placed on the various AR applications. Firstly, it must have a pixel size so small that it is possible to project this very high-resolution screen. It is also required to be brighter and more energy-efficient than what we have today, while at the same time giving full color. In addition, it must be scalable and economical to manufacture. All of these aspirational qualities are crucial for it not to fail, something that Polar Light Technologies technology can achieve, making the company a major player in the semiconductor industry. 

“I usually say that it is a chicken race, meaning that there are many players out on the market competing to reach the goal first. Many other technologies find some limitations quite early on, meaning they can only meet two or three requirements at a maximum. Where we consider ourselves unique is that we have a concept that physically can meet all five of these requirements, and we are well on our way to doing so.” 

Polar Light Technologies partly focuses on Head Up Display applications in, for example, airplanes or other heavy vehicles. There, the technology can act as a direct increase in security. In airplanes, the pilot can get important and sometimes crucial information, such as position, speed and altitude, directly on the windshield. This kind of information could result in enabling a safe landing even in bad weather conditions or in poor visibility. It would save a lot of resources, both in terms of time and money, but also the environment. In vehicles, such as trucks and cars, a HUD can enable visibility in poor weather conditions or in the dark. In addition, the technology can provide a driver with information about what is hiding behind a crest or in front of a large vehicle that is obscuring the view. 

Another current application for Polar Light Technologies is Head Mounted Displays, such as smart glasses, where you get information of various kinds directly on the glasses. The information provided is basically all the information that is otherwise on the mobile phone, such as GPS, email and camera functions. But professor Per-Olof Holtz suggests that highly efficient wearables also can be used in medicine, acting as a guide for surgeons. 

“If a surgeon, for example, has to change a knee joint, the alignment of the work is of great importance as one knee joint is not the same as another. This means that even a very experienced orthopedist can come across a knee joint that he or she has no experience with. Then you could use artificial intelligence and gain access to enormously large databases to be able to find other knee joints that are similar to the specific knee joint to be replaced. With smart glasses, the orthopedist can get that information directly on his glasses and thereafter line it up correctly.” 

The development and improvement of Polar Light Technologies innovation is an ongoing process. Recently yet another breakthrough was made, proving the strength of the technology’s basic concept. The process transfer to a modern production grade reactor and process tuning has led to a 10,000-time fold improvement. 

“We performed multiple separate runs and all of them came out with an amazingly bright glow. This time around we managed to reach an incredible 2,9 million nits. It is an amazing breakthrough and we could not be more excited”, Nilsson says

Next on the agenda is an optimization journey to achieve a blue LED that is as good as possible. There are quite a few tricks up the sleeves that would further improve and refine the technology that has yet to be tested. As soon as that is done, the next step is to produce a corresponding green demonstrator. 

“The eye is very sensitive to green light, which means that green light in particular is desirable in various optical applications. At Polar Light Technologies, we have a lot of thoughts and ideas around it. We have previously tried to reach an effective green LED but did not have the opportunity to go in with full force. But this time we will, and we will use the reactor in Lund that has made the breakthrough with our blue LEDs possible”, Holtz says

Furthermore, Professor Holtz expresses that the long-term vision and goal for Polar Light Technologies is to realize efficient RGB microLEDs, i.e., in red, green and blue light. Efficient microLEDs across the spectrum would enable a large number of futuristic applications. In addition to traditional displays, HMDs and HUDs, Polar Light Technologies sees great applications possibilities in wearables and panels, circadian lightning, optical interconnects and quantum cryptography.  

“In the long term, we are looking towards circadian lighting where the light is adapted to the circadian rhythm, something that has been shown to have health benefits. With our polarized light, we can also reach two large markets. One is optical interconnect, which is a way to transport information in a secure way using light, and quantum cryptography, that is inviolable cryptography”, Nilsson explains

These are seven multibillion-dollar markets that have been mapped by Polar Light Technologies where the company’s technology is a key enabler, but Nilsson believes that additional markets may become relevant in the future.