Google buys micro-LED startup Raxium, wants to make AR displays

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Google is adding more fuel to the AR fire burning at the enterprise. The Information reports that Google has struck a deal to buy Raxium, a “five-year-old startup developing tiny light-emitting diodes for displays used in augmented and mixed reality devices.”

Raxium hasn’t released a commercial product, but its work revolves around micro-LEDs, which can make the kind of tiny displays that AR devices need. Pretty much everyone is buying their OLED display technology from Samsung these days, but micro-LEDs are expected to be the next big thing, and there’s no clear winner in this market just yet. Apple has been investing in the technology for a while, buying a micro-LED startup in 2014, while Meta is partnering with a micro-LED technology company called Plessey. The juggernaut Samsung is also interested in the market and is already selling micro LED TVs.

Google’s latest AR development wave includes job listings for an “augmented reality OS” that promises to reach “billions” of people and a “Project Iris” AR headset. The hardware division also bought a company called North, which made AR glasses that actually looked normal. The “Project Iris” headset is said to be released in 2024.

VR and AR contribute a lot to the Google Graveyard

It’s fair to compare Google’s AR gear to the company’s VR efforts over the past few years, especially since VR was spearheaded by the same team with the same leader, Clay Bavor, who is now vice president of the “Google Labs” division . Google’s VR endeavors from c. 2014 to 2021 included multiple acquisitions and hirings and a ton of rumours. Google met with chip vendors to ensure needed features would appear on future phones and set out hardware requirements for OEMs. The company built VR support into Android with lots of hardware support and a so-called “VR operating system” with a VR UI for the settings pages, a VR launcher and a VR play store. Google brought VR support to YouTube and built the world-class VR painting app Tilt Brush.

But the result of all that work and a million years of rumors was a line of products that no longer exist today. Google Cardboard, a literal cardboard phone-powered VR headset, lasted from 2014 to 2021. Google Daydream, a plastic phone-powered VR headset with a small controller, lasted from 2016 to 2019. Fully standalone Daydream VR headsets launched in 2018 and died a year later with the rest of Daydream. VR support was removed from Android in 2020, and Tilt Brush lasted from 2016 to 2021. Daydream and Cardboard were both reasonably well received initially, but Google’s bar for the product’s survival is set very, very high.

There’s also the wave of AR/VR development that happened before all the Daydream/Cardboard stuff. Project Tango, which first brought AR to phones via countless specialized sensors, lasted from 2014 to 2017. Tango eventually morphed into Android’s ARCore, which runs similar AR effects using commodity hardware. These efforts are still ongoing. Before that, there was Google Glass, which was never 3D augmented reality. Glass was more of a smartphone-style 2D interface projected into a transparent lens in front of your eye. Glass insists it’s still alive and still selling to enterprise customers, but the consumer wing lasted roughly from 2012 to 2015.


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