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Known Knowns, Observations and Inferences

There have been a bunch of Hololens 2 related posts here lately, and I wanted to consolidate a few of them into a single view and provide a little bit of added context. What follows is a brief summary of recent information that is available regarding MicroVision and Microsoft's Hololens 2. As always, the thoughts and opinions posted here are my own and are not affiliated with any other entity.




February 24, 2019: Hololens 2 is launched at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The product was announced to be based on a "miracle" MEMS-laser scanner system.

Shortly after the launch, the composite image shown here was assembled by MVIS shareholder "lichtwellen", comparing Microsoft's promotional launch image of the MEMS scanning mirror at the heart of Hololens 2 on the left, to one of the images from MicroVision's patent MEMS scanners for scanning laser devices (good through the year 2036) on the right.

March 28, 2019: AR+MR Vertical Removed from MVIS Presentations.

The MVIS investor presentation in December 2018 included the "AR+MR" image shown here and a reference to the "AR+MR" large vertical market, including an IDC market forecast of 70M units of AR/VR headsets to be sold in 2022.

The MVIS offering for this market was described as an "Integrated Display and Sensor Module for Binocular Headset" and the slide described the benefits of MVIS' technology for this important market: high resolution display, enabling wide field of view, low persistence, small size, low weight and low power consumption.

By March 2019, a new MVIS presentation was created that eliminated the reference to the AR+MR vertical entirely and replaced it with a question mark and "April 2017 Contract".

The reference to "Integrated Display and Sensor Module" was eliminated and replaced with "High Definition Display System" and the bullets "Unable to name the customer, a leading technology company", and "Unable to name the product or target market" were placed to describe the opportunity.

April 23, 2019: Microsoft tweets a video from Alex Kipman, describing the design and operation of the Hololens 2 MEMS-based display in detail, arriving at the formation that the "display system" was invented by Microsoft, while it is "based on" MEMS:

"With Hololens 2, we had to invent a brand new display system. Now this display system is based on MEMS. It essentially allows us to steer photons, allowing us to shrink the product, while more than doubling the field of vision. To put it in perspective, this is like moving from a 720p television, to a 2k television for each of your eyes. 

The way that the display works, you basically shoot light towards a mirror. You have a fast scanning mirror, that will scan at about 24,000 times per second. That will essentially move light, the photons, in the horizontal. And then they'll hit a second mirror, a slow scanning mirror that will scan slowly at about 6,000 times per second. That will then distribute those photons in the Y direction. And this allows us to form an image on the back of your eye with the smallest and most power efficient 2k display in existence."


November 6, 2019: During the Q3 2019 MVIS conference call, Perry Mulligan made the self-evident statement confirming that "it appears to be our logo" on the Hololens 2 prototype image displayed by Alex Kipman during this presentation in Zurich on October 3, 2019.

During the same call, a $5M order for components from the "April 2017" customer was announced (but not mentioned in any press release), bringing the total product backlog from that customer to $10.5M as of that date.

February 6, 2020: Bernard Kress, Optical Architect of Hololens 2 describes sensor integration"When you move your head, your display has to be compensated," he says. "The motion-to-photon latency needs to be less than 10 milliseconds - any greater and you'll be uncomfortable and nauseous."

"We're down to 9 ms with Hololens 2 and hope to be close to 5 ms with next versions - but much work still needs to be done to reduce that motion-to-photon latency."
If we posit that this term is inclusive of the various sensors and the MEMS scanning display, to achieve a "motion-to-photon latency" of "close to 5ms with next versions", it would seem to be necessary to increase the operating speed of the MEMS scanner to 180hz (5.55 milliseconds) or faster.

Further on the topic of "next versions" of Hololens, this Microsoft patent from former MVIS engineering leaders Greg Gibson and Josh Miller describes using the same MEMS scanning mirror to both detect a user's eye position and generate a displayed image to a user. 

This concentration of capabilities within the MEMS scanning system may allow for reduced system latency, or at least would reduce the size, weight and power of the system, and I wouldn't say you're crazy if you think it sounds a whole lot like the "Integrated Display and Sensor Module for Binocular Headset" offer that was removed from MVIS presentations from March 2019 forward.

In fact, there have been an array of patent applications by former-MVIS-current-MSFT folks covering advanced MEMS scanning techniques and applications that didn't make it into the Hololens 2 product, including "Foveated MEMS Scanning Display", which allows for display resolution to dynamically change based on the user's eye position, and this fascinating one "Techniques for Removing Particulate from an Optical Surface", describing the use of electrical charges to clean dust and debris from the surface of the MEMS mirror. This last one would seem helpful for ensuring continued operation of the display in harsh environments.
February 10, 2020: Speaking of challenging operating environments, the US Army budget request for FY2021 (period beginning October 2020) includes $906M for 40,219 IVAS units, soldier-worn displays based on an enhanced Hololens 2. 

IVAS was subsequently called the "breakout star" of the Army's overall 2021 budget request.



February 14, 2020: Alex Kipman replies to a tweet from disappointed small developers who have been unable to get their own Hololens 2 to write applications.

The promise of "news to share soon" from Kipman for developers who have been waiting patiently for availability of Hololens 2 units suggests the product may be more broadly available shortly. How many Hololens 2 units represent broad availability, and how many units can be created with $10.5M worth of components, the MVIS product backlog from November 2019, is a relevant question here.

In Summary

To sum up, there's "news to share soon" on availability of Hololens 2 for the small developer community. There's funding of $906M in US Army budget in FY2021 dedicated to provide this capability to our soldiers. There's stated performance goals for next versions of the Hololens system that could seemingly require further advancements in the performance of core MVIS technology. 

And there is MVIS, working away on providing the key enabling technology for the global AR+MR market opportunity, so far uncredited, so far unknown and unloved by the outside world.

It would seem MVIS is content to operate as a silent, trusted development partner to the Tier 1s of the world, fulfilling its role as the invisible enabler, while holding on to the belief (or maybe even the understanding) that, ultimately, the way for the company to have its day in the sun is to keep its head down, say as little as possible, and simply deliver for the customer in these relationships.

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