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Lark Optics targets your retinas for AR without nausea and other illnesses

This story is syndicated from the premium edition of Preseed nowa newsletter that takes a closer look at the product, market and story of the founders of UK-based startups, helping you understand how they fit into what’s happening in the wider world and the startup ecosystem.

Whether you believe it’s the future of everything, or just a handy tool that will be part of the mix of technology we use regularly in a few years, augmented reality is a rapidly developing field with one major drawback: just like VR can make you feel sick.

For example, US soldiers who tried Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses last year suffered “‘mission-affecting physical limitations’, including headaches, eye strain, and nausea,” Bloomberg reported.

While the technology “could generate net economic benefits of $1.5 trillion by 2030” according to PwCis this disease a huge inhibitor to the growth of AR and VR.

A startup that wants to tackle the problem is based in Cambridge Lark opticswho has developed a way to work around the problems that cause these problems.

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“In the real world, we perceive depth because our eyes rotate and focus. Two different signals must work in harmony. However, in all existing AR glasses, these signals are fundamentally mismatched,” explains Pawan Shrestha, CEO of Lark Optics.

If users need to focus on a “virtual screen” on augmented reality goggles, users must switch focus between the real world and the augmented world. This mismatch in depth 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 the AR is always in focus no matter what your eyes do 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 demonstrator model. Shrestha says they have conducted two successful user studies with their proof of concept; one in his own lab and one with an external partner he prefers not to name.

When the technology is ready, they want one fables model for producing the components they design, which they will then sell to original equipment manufacturers who make AR headsets.

Given that they’re tackling such a fundamental challenge to mass AR adoption, it’s not surprising that other companies are tackling it in different 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 impact the user’s field of view.

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

He wanted to develop technology that he could commercialize, he says interferometer. While that venture didn’t work, his work led him to a PhD from the University of Cambridge, where he saw 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 a lot of people,” he says.

Shrestha co-founded Lark Optics (formerly known as AR-X Photonics) with his friend Xin Chang and Daping Chu, who previously oversaw Shrestha and Chang’s promotional work. The trio has been working together for about ten years, but only got serious about Lark Optics last year.

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