Google Research

Varifocal augmented reality adopting electrically tunable uniaxial plane-parallel plates

SIGGRAPH (2020)

Abstract

Vergence-accommodation conflict (VAC) is a major challenge in optical-see through augmented reality (AR) system. To resolve this conflict, many approaches are proposed, for instance, by means of adjustment of the projected virtual image to coincide with the surroundings, called image registration, which is more often referred to as varifocal function. In this paper, a varifocal AR system is demonstrated by adopting electrically tunable liquid crystal (LC) plane-parallel plates to solve VAC problem. The LC plates provide electrically tunable optical paths when the directors of LC molecules are re-orientated with applied voltages, which leads to a corresponding change of light speed for an extraordinary wave. To provide a sufficient tunable optical path, three pieces of multiple-layered LC structures are used with the total thickness of the active LC layers (∼510 μm). In experiments, the projected virtual image can be adjusted from 1.4 m to 2.1 m away from the AR system, while the thickness of LC plane-parallel plates are only less than 3 mm without any mechanical moving part. When light propagates in the uniaxial LC layers, the wave vector and the Poynting vector are different. The longitudinal displacement of the image plane is determined by Poynting vectors rather than wave vectors. As a result, the analysis of the AR system should be based on Poynting vectors during geometrical optical analysis. Surprisingly, the tunable range of the longitudinal displacement of Poynting vectors is 2-fold larger than the tunable range of the wave vectors. Moreover, the virtual image shifts in opposite directions with respect to the Poynting vectors and wave vectors. The proposed AR system is not only simple but also thin, and it exhibits a large clear aperture. The investigation here paves the way to a simple solution of the VAC problem for augmented reality systems.

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