DARPA awards $4.7 million grant to transform augmented-reality glasses

NEW YORK. An interdisciplinary team from Columbia University School of Engineering is working with colleagues at Stanford, UMass Amherst, and Trex Enterprises Corp. to develop an alternative solution for use in augmented reality (AR) glasses.

The Columbia-led team was awarded a $4.7 million, four-year grant from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency () and charged with developing a revolutionary lightweight glass that is able to dynamically monitor the wearer’s vision and display contextual images that are vision-corrected.

Team leader Michal Lipson -- the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering at Columbia and a pioneer in nanophotonics -- says of the project: “Our design will be a key technology enabler for the Department of Defense, industry, and the general public. Our ultimate deliverable will be an ultra-high-resolution, see-through, head-mounted display with a large field of view and vastly reduced [size, weight, and power consumption], coupled with the ability to correct users’ ocular aberrations in real time and project aberration-corrected visible contextual information onto the retina.”

The AR glass that the project is working on relies on the ultrafast generation of arbitrary wavefronts, both in visible (VIS) and near-infrared (NIR) wavelengths. Fast arbitrary wavefront generation in these spectral ranges has been one of the major challenges in optics, according to materials from Columbia, due mainly to a lack of actively tunable optical materials. Commercially available spatial light modulators based on liquid crystal cells and MEMS [microelectromechanical systems] mirror arrays fail to solve the problem because they lack modulation speed and spatial resolution. Silicon nitride (SiN)-integrated will be the backbone onto which certain novel optical engineered materials will be incorporated to make up the AR glass.

The research team plans to develop a scalable fabrication process that is based on standard CMOS techniques, for example deep UV lithography; and well-established procedures, such as dry transfer methods, to integrate the new engineered materials into the SiN-integrated photonics platform. The team will also design analytical and computational tools for modeling large resonator arrays and dynamics of device performance.

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