Supercon: Designing Your Own Diffractive Optics

Kelly Peng is an electrical and optical engineer, and founder of Kura AR. She’s built a fusion reactor, a Raman spectrometer, a DIY structured light camera, a linear particle accelerator, and emotional classifiers for likes and dislikes. In short, we have someone who can do anything, and she came in to talk about one of the dark arts (pun obviously intended): optics.

The entire idea of Kura AR is to build an immersive augmented reality experience, and when it comes to AR glasses, there are two ways of doing it. You could go the Google Glass route and use a small OLED and lenses, but these displays aren’t very bright. Alternatively, you could use a diffractive waveguide, like the Hololens. This is a lot more difficult to manufacture, but the payoff will be a much larger field of view and a much more immersive experience.

The lens that Kelly is using in her AR headset is basically a diffraction grating, or a series of parallel lines on a piece of plastic. These diffraction gratings reflect light, but it’s dependent on the wavelength. Therefore, for a full-color system, you need three layers, one for red, one for blue, and another for green. The trick here is how to manufacture this. Kelly took a Hololens lens apart and took a look at it with an electron microscope, which appears to be made via fancy, and expensive, photolithography.

There is another way, though. The feature sizes on this diffraction grating aren’t too small, and this could conceivably be done through injection molding. With a lot of coding, simulation, and testing, Kelly realized this was manufacturable with somewhat standard injection molding processes, would cost only about $60,000 upfront, and would produce a part for one dollar. That’s much better than whatever process is going into the Hololens, and an amazing technical feat that’s bring the future of AR closer than ever before.

This talk gets deep into diffractive optics. It’s jam-packed with the kind of technical detail you’ll need to know if you’re going to hack together your own AR / VR system. In short, it’s the kind of real-world technical talk that we love. Sit back with some popcorn and your notepad.

15 thoughts on “Supercon: Designing Your Own Diffractive Optics

  1. Wow, amazing how she researched the manufacturing process to make it more affordable for the end user while using common processes in a new way. Teaching the old dog a new trick that will hopefully kick this technology into the mainstream!

    1. Microsoft should be hiring her as a consultant, if not writing her a check for the millions they’ll save.

      Unfortunately due to patents it would be impossible to bring this to market without a big player like Microsoft Google etc. On board.

    1. But not a PhD in optical engineering. She’s just throwing around the buzzwords that are common in the scene and patents. There is nothing new in what she describes. All the companies that deal in this field have had the same thoughts. Injection molded diffractive optics? Not new at all. I was disappointed. I don’t know what she brings other than ripping off existing patents with dodgy cheap manufacturing.

  2. “Kelly Peng is an electrical and optical engineer, and founder of Kura AR. She’s built a fusion reactor, a Raman spectrometer, a DIY structured light camera, a linear particle accelerator, and emotional classifiers for likes and dislikes.”

    But no time machine?

  3. I love that you recorded and uploaded these videos, and can’t even imagine how much work went into doing it all live, but with how many slides are missed entirely in many of these videos because the camera was showing a close-up of the speaker instead I think skipping having a camera in the room at all and just recording slides + audio would have resulted in better videos (if a better mix of speaker + slides is unobtainable).

    But moaning about the medium aside, great talk! I learned a ton, even if the majority of it was over my head.

    1. I’ll just kick in and say that every decision is a trade-off when you don’t have multiple cameras. If you record the audio + slides, you end up missing the speaker’s gestures and body language. Also, big changes between slides can result in over/underexposure you don’t even notice until later.

      Personally, I prefer to record the speaker and obtain a copy of the presentation, then inset the speaker with the according slide. Of course, if they are using a laser pointer or rapidly switching between slides, you miss information.

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