Snap Acquires AR Waveguide Displays Maker WaveOptics for $500 Million
Snap has acquired the UK-based AR waveguide displays manufacturer WaveOptics for $500 million. The company builds augmented reality displays for its Spectacles AR glasses. This is Snap’s biggest deal ever and it firmly underscores the company’s long-term commitment to AR eyewear’s future as mainstream devices.
WaveOptics focuses on manufacturing waveguides. This is a display technology that makes it possible to overlay virtual objects onto the real world via a transparent surface such as glass along with the accompanying light projectors. The WaveOptics displays are already incorporated in Snap’s new Spectacles that were announced last week. The new Spectacles won’t sell to the mainstream market but will be made available to a few AR effect creators.
WaveOptics was founded in the UK in 2014. To date, the AR company has raised $65 million in total funding according to PitchBook, a private market data firm. WaveOptics’s team of 125 members will now be reporting directly to Steen Strand, the director of Snap’s hardware division. Snap has paid for half of the deal in stock and will make a decision on whether to pay for the other half in stock or cash in the future. The acquisition was confirmed by a Snap spokesperson.
The acquisition is, partly, a defensive move by Snap. It gives the Snapchat parent company a manufacturer of a key AR glasses component in an industry that is still nascent but one that is poised for tremendous growth in the future. Snap spokesperson confirmed that in spite of the acquisition, WaveOptics will continue supplying its waveguides to other companies while at the same time working with Snap on its custom optical systems.
With many of Snap’s bigger tech rivals also working on their independent waveguide technology projects as they rush to debut cutting-edge AR glasses, this acquisition is a strategic and defensive move on the part of Snap. Google pioneered this space with its Google Glasses in 2013 and has recently posted listings for a new team that will be charged with developing waveguides. In 2018, Apple also acquired the holographic waveguide manufacturer Akonia and is poised to debut an augmented reality headset as soon as 2022. Facebook is also developing custom waveguides for future Augmented Reality glasses which according to Mark Zuckerberg, could “redefine our relationship with technology.”
On the other hand, WaveOptics is signaling that it wants to build AR waveguide displays that are geared for mass adoption. In February last year, the company announced what it touted as the thinnest color waveguide developed so far. A few months ago, WaveOptics, partnering with Luxexcel, also debuted a waveguide capable of supporting prescriptions.
Snap’s new Spectacles glasses have been developed with WaveOptics tech and have a 26.3-degree field of view that is smaller than that of the bulkier Augmented Reality headsets such as the Microsoft HoloLens. The Spectacles are designed to show its Lenses AR effects brightly in both an indoor and outdoor setting. However, this brightness comes at the expense of the battery life with the battery lasting just 30 minutes. Snap’s AR glasses also weigh just 134 grams which is still far heavier than the typical regular pair of glasses.
We are still a long way from light and affordable AR glasses that would appeal to most people even though Snap is already spending hundreds of millions of dollars on WaveOptics at this moment. According to Snap CEO Evan Spiegel, it will take approximately a decade before Augmented Reality glasses become so compelling that they will be ready for mass adoption like smartphones.
Spiegel revealed that Snap had been working with WaveOptics for many years to develop the waveguide displays. Spiegel considers Snap’s multimillion acquisition a “long-term investment in the future of Spectacles.”