Lark Optics targets your retina for AR without nausea and other ailments

This story comes from the premium edition of PreSeed Now, a newsletter that looks at the product, market and history of UK-founded startup founders so you can understand how they fit into what’s happening in the wider world and in the startup ecosystem.

Whether you think it’s the future of everything or just a useful tool that will be part of the tech mix we use regularly a few years from now, augmented reality is a fast-growing field with one major downside – like VR, it can leave you feeling ill.

For example, US soldiers who tested Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses last year suffered “mission-impacting physical impairments,” including headaches, eye strain and nausea, reports Bloomberg mentionted.

While the technology could “bring net economic benefits of $1.5 trillion by 2030” according to PwCthis disease is a huge inhibitor to the development of AR and VR.

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One startup that wants to tackle the problem is Cambridge Lark Opticswhich has developed a way around the issues that cause these problems.

“In the real world, we perceive depth with our eyes rotating and focusing. Two different indications must work in harmony. However, in all existing AR glasses, these cues do not match substantially,” explains Lark Optics CEO Pawan Shrestha.

Having to focus on a “virtual screen” in augmented reality glasses means users have to switch focus between real and augmented reality. This depth mismatch causes physical discomfort and conditions such as nausea, dizziness, eye strain and headaches.

What Lark Optics does differently, says Shrestha, is that it projects the augmented reality image onto the user’s retina. This means AR is always in focus no matter what your eyes are doing to adjust to the real world around you.

So far the startup has developed a proof of concept and is now iterating to refine its demo model. Shrestha says they conducted two successful proof-of-concept user studies. one in their own lab and another with an external partner they prefer not to name.

When the technology is ready, they want to use a myth model to produce the parts they design, which they will then sell to original equipment manufacturers who make AR headsets.

Given that they’re facing such a fundamental challenge to the mass adoption of AR, it’s not surprising that other companies are tackling it in other ways (more on that below). But Shrestha says his startup’s approach is the most efficient in terms of processing power and battery power, and doesn’t affect the user’s field of vision.

Shrestha grew up in rural Nepal (“really rural… I was almost nine years old before I saw electric lights”). He says his parents’ enthusiasm for his education eventually led him to New Zealand where he earned a Masters in Electronic Engineering from the University of Waikato.

Wanting to develop technology he could commercialize, he says he developed one interferometer. Although this venture did not succeed, his work led him to a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where he identified the commercial potential of a new approach to AR displays.

“It was scientifically challenging, but it was also something that could touch the lives of many, many people,” he says.

Shrestha co-founded Lark Optics (which was previously known as AR-X Photonics) with his friend Xin Chang and Daping Chu, who previously supervised Shrestha and Chang’s PhD work. The trio have been working together for about a decade, but only last year started with Lark Optics.

Shrestha says they were joined this week by a new recruit, Andreas Georgiou, who previously worked at Microsoft as a principal researcher in optical engineering.