STMicroelectronics is an industry leader in MEMS technologies and has demonstrated a strong expertise in developing sensors and actuators for decades. ST introduced MEMS micromirror devices by leveraging its extensive experience in MEMS technologies to design, develop and manufacture micro-electro-mechanical devices and electronic control systems to accurately and precisely rotate reflective surfaces along rotational axes.
MEMS micromirror solutions are typically used in laser beam scanning systems (LBS) to project visible images or infrared patterns. These solutions work by deflecting laser beams emitted from laser diodes to project images onto the required field of view. The beam deflection is generally performed using a combination of two mirrors rotating on perpendicular axes.
ST’s MEMS micromirror solution combines MEMS micromirrors with the dedicated electronic components to build a complete LBS system. ST is Worldwide #1 manufacturer of MEMS based LBS solutions. ST’s Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) is the solution to enable All-Day-Wearable AR Glasses.
One of the key challenges for augmented reality is the development of ultra-compact, lightweight, low-power near-to-eye display solutions with good image quality. Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) technologies can meet these key requirements and deliver form-factors that enable light weight, fashionable, all-day wearable AR smart glasses with the ability to scale resolution and field-of-view (FoV) with low power consumption.
MEMS ScanAR technology enables fast development of high-performance Augmented Reality glasses through a reference design and a manufacturing ecosystem.
In a recent media briefing with Davide BRUNO, Regional Vice President of AMS MEMS Marketing & Application and Smartphone Competence Center, Asia Pacific, STMicroelectronics talks about LBS technology advantages and ST leadership in LBS solutions.
Dizziness is the common problem caused by AR glasses? Can LBS technology effectively solve such problems? Why? What are your solutions?
Davide: For the virtual reality glass which provides fully immersive experience, you put your headset on your head, your eyes are completely covered, and the dizziness is caused by the fact that your brain is watching an image that should be with depth in the space. But actually these images are projected very close to your eyes. So you have these feelings and your brain can not handle the dizziness problem. So when we move to the augmented reality especially for smart glass, you are not disconnected and you are not taken away from the normal world that is around you. The digital content is displayed in the glass, and you can still see the world you have seen before. So the brain does not have this mismatch of information and does not get this confusion. So this explains why the dizziness is caused, and why it is not present in the smart glass. So this is not the problem for AR glass.
How will you compare your LBS solutions with competitors promoting similar solutions?
Davide: ST product portfolio is one of the largest that a semiconductor company can have in the market. In the slide Johnny presented and the slides we presented today, it is clear that the smart glasses is not just the MEMS mirror. The enabler MEMS mirror is surely very important, but it is not the only component of the smart glasses. So we have the mirror drivers, we have the laser drivers, and we have other components around. In order to provide the best time-to-market of the solution – because our target is to provide the content maker with the turn-key solution/or reference design- it is very important that the supplier is supporting everything. That is why the one-stop-shop slide is very important. One-stop-shop means the customer can buy everything and get the full support from one supplier. This is for me very important. This is what ST today can do very well.
How does ST help LaSAR Alliance to promote the LBS technology and enlarge the AR glasses application areas? What role does ST play?
Davide:. Clearly ST is one of the strong promoters and founders of the Alliance. Today we provide the main hardware part for the final smart glasses system. We also discuss with the end customers for the promotion. So somehow we are a very active member of the LaSAR Alliance. On the technology side, as you could see from the slide in which we present the technology roadmap in the presentation, today we are already at the PεTRATM1.5, which is an improvement of 15% compared with PεTRATM1.0.So this is one of the very important aspects of the member of the Alliance. So we need to push the boundary. We need to provide the roadmap of product and technology that can improve the key parameters we mentioned at the very beginning. Those parameters are brightness, form factor and power consumption. So I think time-to-market, reference design, and turn-key solutions are all based on the speed, the hardware makers and the main end makersof this Alliance are able to put it in place. I think this is one of the key points of ST’s presence in the LaSAR Alliance.
We have introduced the Lab-in-Fab, which is the first in the world. This is another initiative which is closely linked with the future of the Piezo technology. So when we can bring talent new ideas in one place like Singapore to foster and accelerate the development of the Piezoelectric MEMS, it will strongly help to provide better roadmap and better performance in the future. So this is another important role of ST. So ST not only provides the technology inside, but also creates a proper environment around these important technologies to bring new ideas from outside and test these ideas inside the fab. This is what we are doing with this initiative in Singapore.
Do you find any challenges for the wide adoption of this technology in the market?
Davide: Today clearly the LBS technology is the best one as we have explained. When we predict 5 years from now, clearly the volume will go much, much higher than now. We see Asia is moving very fast on the new inquiries and new potential applications. Clearly, there are blocks inside the solution that are still new like the waveguide. So I think from now to 3~5 years, this will be much more mature. So I think across all the different blocks, especially the hardware part and the electronics part, the technology will be much mature. We use the MEMS Piezo that is developing very fast, and we use the BCD technology for the mirror drivers and laser diode drivers- the BCD technology is one of the most famous technologies in the world and a very mature technology of ST. I think by looking at all the solutions, the waveguide is the one that we will see the most development in the coming 5 years. This is where we need to focus with our partners. And we need to speed up this technology.
Which are the key factors driving the AR glasses market? Which country and region grow the fastest in terms of the adoption of AR glasses?
Davide: I answer the second part of the question first. Today we see that America is very promising in terms of the intention to develop the content solution for augmented reality and for the smart glasses. If I look at the market from now to 5 years, I think many players in China and in Asia will take over. For sure in terms of volume, it will be much higher. In terms of content, I think China will leverage its advantage, considering smart cities and the interaction of the smart glasses with the world around us. I make this specific link with smart city to answer the first part of the question. So which application? Again here we need to think about the content. We also need to think about how we are going to use the smart glasses. Again let’s repeat once more. What is the smart glasses? It is the digital content that is overlaid on your world. So you go to the grocery shop, you go to the supermarket, and you want to buy a product, and your glasses is telling you a lot of information by reading the label. So it is also important to have this link between the world around you and the interaction of the smart glasses with the information this world can provide. The smarter the city is, the more interaction you will have. In my opinion, for cities in China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan, they already have the proper infrastructure to welcome a new user which is the smart glasses to get the information to conduct dialogues together and provide more experiences to the user. It is a very long answer. But I think the concept is like this. Asia will take over thanks to its infrastructure, and here there will be more adoption of AR glasses with more smart cities in the future.
Do we have a timeline or prediction for the mass adoption of the LBS technology? Besides AR, do you think it has other potential application markets?
Davide : For what we can see today, I think this is not ST’s accurate mention in term of the mass adoption of the smart glasses. 2025 could be the year of the boom and mass production. But I think we can anticipate that there are several other factors that influence the mass adoption of the smart glasses in 2025. These factors are probably linked to the new solution that we will see in 2022 where the smart glasses is much more close to the wearable glasses. We will bring new players who will be more on the content side to invest in these applications. On that side, I think the time needed for more content will be longer. So it is still not clear whether the 2025 will be the year of massive adoption for smart glasses. As for the second question, as we have said, the LBS application is not a new technology but a mature one. For example, we have seen its possible adoption in LiDar. This is something very interesting because automotive LiDar is something very promising because of its advantages compared with current solutions in terms of space, and in terms of reliability. So we move from pure consumer applications like smart glasses to automotive LiDar. So I think the adoption of LBS is something we can see in the medical as I have said before. So LBS will not only be used in smart glasses. Smart glasses is an application with very high requirements, so probably LBS fits the best. But as I have said, automotive LiDar and others are other important applications we can see.