Lumus wants its display optics in future smart glasses

Look out, Hololens.

Ari Grobman with the new Lumus DK-50 developer kit glasses

You might have never heard of Lumus, but it's likely that the companies making the smart glasses of the future will. You see, Lumus is a display optics company that has traditionally made its tech for combat aviation, but has recently branched out into the nascent world of augmented reality. Last year, it debuted the DK-40, a developer kit that packs in its optical engine tech into a relatively compact pair of frames. At this year's CES though, Lumus is unveiling the DK-50, which adds way more features: A wide 40-degree field-of-view, binocular 720p vision, plus a powerful Qualcomm Snapdragon processor that runs none other than the Android operating system.

The Lumus DK-50

"It's basically a cell phone inside your glasses," says Ari Grobman, Lumus' VP of Business Development, as he and crew of Lumus employees stopped by the Engadget trailer at CES to show off their new pride and joy. Like all of Lumus' products, the DK-50 is really meant as a reference design for developers and OEMs. Lumus doesn't want to make consumer products on its own -- it wants to market their tech to the Microsofts and Googles of the world to use their display optics in the Hololenses and Glass devices of the future. "We're an optics company that enables the display modules that you need for smart glasses," says Grobman.

The DK-50 basically looks like an extra-chunky pair of glasses. It has a couple of stereo cameras in front for head-tracking and the internals -- the processor, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer and IMU (Integration Motion Unit) sensors -- are housed inside one of the temples. Lumus has also partnered up with Infinity AR to develop software so that you can simply look at an object and it'll figure out what it is (say a table for example) so that you can easily superimpose images on top of it.

Example of what you can see while wearing the Lumus glasses

What amazed me the most, however, is its wide field of view. I've tried both Google Glass and Microsoft's Hololens and, while impressive, both were impaired by their tiny display areas. Google's Glass, for example, has a field of view of 15 degrees while Hololens has an area of 20 degrees. The DK-50, on the other hand, has a relatively large 40-degrees FOV. And that's not it either; Grobman tells me that the company is working on a 60-degree FOV model to debut later this year.

In my demo, I took a close look at a graphic of the human skeleton and its musculature. I could even peer forward to take a look at the organs inside. I also saw the solar system floating around me, peeked inside the workings of a car engine and watched a 3D clip of dinosaurs running around. The DK-50 projects a 720p image for each eye, which I thought was pretty sharp already, but Grobman says the company is working on making it 1080p for each eye later in the future.

This is the DK-45, a much slimmer version of the DK-50.

Of course, it's still a reference design, so the fit and finish isn't there. The nose piece is a touch uncomfortable and folks with a vision prescription will need to add a lens insert. It also requires external power, either from an outlet or an external battery. But Grobman says these can always be changed up depending on the OEM who decides to take the project on. As a bonus surprise, Grobman decided to show off yet another prototype that's still in development: The DK-45. This version looks much more like a regular pair of glasses. It's far slimmer and much more compact and it's eventually where the company wants to go with its hardware.

"We're finding a huge amount of traction in industrial applications," says Grobman as to how the tech is being used. He also points out that it could be used for driving applications -- maybe have Waze as a head's up display, for example. Or instructing a loved one how to change tires, or remotely supporting "Medical usage is big," he adds. "Pretty much anything that needs information overlaid on a real-world object. The potential is huge."