Consumers are looking for AR/VR glasses that are compact and easy to wear, delivering high-quality imagery with socially acceptable optics that don’t look like “bug eyes.” Researchers have developed a novel technology to deliver those attributes with maximum effect. The researchers imprinted freeform optics with a nanophotonic optical element called a metasurface. The metasurface is a veritable forest of tiny, silver, nanoscale structures on a thin metallic film that conforms, in this advance, to the freeform shape of the optics — realizing a new optical component the researchers call a metaform.
The metaform can defy the conventional laws of reflection, gathering the visible light rays entering an AR/VR eyepiece from all directions and redirecting them directly into the human eye. The researchers likened the nanoscale structures to small-scale radio antennas. When we actuate the device and illuminate it with the correct wavelength, these antennas start oscillating, radiating a new light that delivers the image we want downstream.
Metasurfaces are also called flat optics. So writing metasurfaces on freeform optics is creating an entirely new type of optical component. The optical element applies to any mirrors or lenses, so the researchers are already finding applications in other devices such as sensors and mobile cameras.