By Tom McBrien, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 12, 2014
As the winter months keep students indoors, the threat of screen-induced eyestrain grows. Seeking a solution, a startup founded by University alums is promising a new mobile device that will bypass screens altogether, projecting images straight onto the human retina.
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The device, called “Glyph,” looks like a pair of Beats by Dre headphones, except that the headband can flip down in front of the eyes to provide the user with an experience equivalent to watching an 80-inch T.V. eight feet away.
Avegant, a company co-founded by Engineering alums Edward Tang and Allan Evans, produces the innovative video device. Evans cited the University as being a strong influence on the product.
“The technology could have been done by anyone,” Evans, the chief technology officer of Avegant, said. “But the path of product development was strongly influenced by our experience at Michigan.”
Evans said coming from the Midwest gave the company a fundamental grounding.
“It gives you a strong understanding of what general people want and will respond to,” he said. “Coming out of Michigan, we could look to the forefront of technology and what’s cool, but also bring it back to something that’s going to work for a normal person.”
Avegant has been raising funds to develop the product using the online crowdfunding website Kickstarter, where users can donate a preset amount of money to win a prize, such as the first generation Glyph. Avegant has been asking for a $499 donation for pre-sales of the Glyph.
The company made waves in the tech world when they smashed their original goal of raising $250,000 during the first four hours of pre-sale. They have now raised about $1,250,000 and have a week left to go in their fundraising efforts.
Combined with noise-cancelling audio and the ability to connect to almost any device — such as iPhones, Androids, MacBook Pros, and Playstations — Avegant hopes the Glyph will revolutionize the way we consume media.
“People are using devices today primarily to watch video: streaming Netflix, playing games, watching YouTube videos — and these experiences are what we designed our device for,” said Tang, the company’s CEO.
The Glyph, unlike many other media devices, will forego a screen in lieu of using small LED lights with a special mirror array to mimic how objects are seen naturally.
“We’re using 2 million micromirrors to bounce light into your eye similar to the way you see in real life,” Evans said. “That creates a type of light that your brain really likes.”
The device takes advantage of MEMS — micro-electro mechanical systems — engineering to provide many cutting-edge features, such as the ability to play 3D movies and videos, and the ability to track a user’s head movement. This is potentially intriguing for video game developers who will be able to allow users to look around just by moving their head naturally.
Tang said Ann Arbor is the prime location for the startup due to its constant flow of graduates.
“Michigan is the leading MEMS university probably in the world,” Tang said. “And this device has a lot of MEMS tech in it, from the micromirrors to the head tracking. And several members of our team have specialized in MEMS at Michigan.”