Along with electric vehicles, smart glasses have been increasingly regarded as the next platform of mobile computing. As Apple and Facebook respectively expand into the AR/VR glasses industry, Taiwan’s electronics original design manufacturers (ODMs) are also gearing up, fearing to miss this opportunity.
As early as 2015, Quanta Computer Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of servers and a main supplier of MacBook and Apple Watch, already recognized the growing potential of smart glasses, and reportedly put together a 100-strong R&D team for the emerging sector. Last year, Quanta Computer also collaborated with STMicroelectronics on smart glasses, combining the latter’s expertise in MEMS as well as Laser Beam Scanning with Quanta’s own AR eyewear design and manufacturing capability to develop the optical, electronic and photonics design for the volume production of smart glasses.
In 2016, Quanta also invested in Lumus, an Israeli optics startup aiming to accelerate AR smartglasses manufacturers’ time to market. Along with other products, Lumus specifically offers customers development kits serving as reference designs to speed up product development.
The next year saw Quanta entering a licensing deal with Lumus, in which Lumus licensed some of its optical engines to Quanta, and allow it to mass produce the optical engines for others as well. On October 1, 2021, Quanta revealed that it had increased its investment in Lumus, holding approximately 10% of the company’s stock.
After smartphones, AR glasses will be next mobile computing platform
According to C.C. Leung, Quanta Computer’s Vice Chairman, AR devices will enable more applications than VR headset, with real-world application scenarios. The priority is to get their prices below US$1000 to gain widespread popularity. Barry Lam, Quanta’s founder and chairman, observed that AR devices would be first adopted by companies to boost efficiency before entering everyday lives. In fact, it is happening faster than we thought, and the competition among Taiwan’s original design manufacturers is heating up to gain the capability of volume producing AR eyewear.
STMicroelectronics, for example, believes that AR glasses will replace smartphones in the 2020s. The latest advances in 3D printing also make it increasingly possible to mass produce smart glasses, reaching economy of scale. Smart prescription glasses, the combination of smart eyewear and prescription glasses, are likely the long-awaited revolutionary products that integrate AR eyewear into our everyday lives, bringing it to the mass market.
“It isn’t years away, it is today!”, remarked Guido Groet, Chief Strategy Officer of Luxexcel, a Dutch startup specialized in 3D printing smart prescription lenses. Much like Lumus, the Dutch company recognized the strategic potential of partnering with Taiwanese ODMs, and has been on the lookout in Taiwan for such opportunities.
Earlier this year, Luxexcel won a startup pitch contest in Taiwan, with Quanta Computer being a key participant. A source indicated that Quanta was also highly interested in the Dutch company. Luxexcel already started looking into 3D printed glasses long before others did, gaining a solid advantage. Currently, it can manufacture thousands of smart prescription glasses, and has been on the look out for Taiwanese ODM partners to scale up its production capability. For ODMS, partnering with Luxexcel can place it several years ahead of rivals.