It is perhaps fitting that I make this announcement on the 4th of July as I am joining up with RAVN, a company led by a former Navy SEAL. The last six and half years, this blog has been studying and presenting various display solutions, primarily those related to head-mounted displays, heads-up displays, and small projectors. Unlike flashy publications do little more than retell a company’s marketing stories, I try to dig in and understand the technology, how it works, and how it does or can be expected to perform.
I have had a somewhat unique opportunity writing this blog to have studied a wide range of display devices, optical technologies, and applications. Unfortunately, most of what I have seen from both small and large companies have been disappointing regarding being a good fit for the intended use. Wishfully thinking that the users won’t notice is not usually a good strategy and the market would seem to agree with the number of failed AR products. At AWE 2018 about a month back, it was told, “We love reading your blog, . . . so long as it is not about us.” What can I say? Sometimes the truth hurts.
When I am critical of products such as Magic Leap (which deserves much criticism), people challenge me with, “if you know so much, why aren’t you doing something rather than pointing out the problems of others?” Well, I have been piecing together a vision for where the display and optics for AR headsets and fix-mounted HUDs (ex., automobile and airplane) are going to go in the future and looking for an outlet for these concepts.
As I discussed during my set of interviews on “The AR Show Podcast,” I would love to get involved in building a product again, and I was looking for a “diamond in the rough.” I wanted to work on a product where there was a market, it was technically achievable but would require some innovation, it had a good leader, and most importantly for me, one where I could contribute.
A few months back, Jake Bullock, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and CEO of Ravn, approached me for some consulting help with their display optics for a military AR headset. He and his CTO Dr. Blaine Bell had developed a system with working software for a military AR system. he flew out to show me a working prototype system with cameras, airsoft guns and off-the-shelf AR headsets. For their prototype, they found all the existing AR headsets wanting in terms of size, weight, comfort, fits, and brightness for outdoor use. Jake and his friends from the SEAL Teams had seen first-hand display technology bought by the military that was impractical to use in the field. Jake wanted to build something that they would want to use.
While Jake and Blaine have a background in software and multimedia, they wanted to beef up their ability to design and integrate electronic hardware into their system. I reached out to a former colleague, Paul Michalczuk, who is excellent at electronics design and has a very broad and up to date set of knowledge and experience. Paul has signed on as V.P. of Hardware Engineering at Ravn.
What I liked about Ravn is that the CEO is driven to build a product that is useful and not just a flashy demo. He also understands first-hand how it needs to work. The display requirements, while challenging, are achievable at a cost that the intended market can afford. There is also the opportunity to leverage some of the new concepts I have been developing on my own that could lead to breakthroughs in AR. What started as just another “consulting gig” has evolved, and many of the reasons given above, I have decided to join Ravn as their Chief Science Officer (CSO).
I will still try to keep this blog up when I have time. I’m interested in displays and optics, even those that may seem unrelated to what I am working on at the time. I enjoy trying to understand how things work and trying to explain the technology to others. I’m still planning on getting out my report are AWE 2018 along with pictures I took through the optics of some of the headsets.