Molecular Imprints becomes a virtual reality company

Remainder of company acquired by Magic Leap, a VC-funded startup led by Google.


Molecular Imprints was the venture funded imprint equipment start up, that was split up last year when the semiconductor applications were acquired by Canon. Sources tell me that the remaining non-semiconductor portion Molecular Imprints has been acquired by Magic Leap, a virtual reality start up that raised $542M last year in a B round led by Google.

Magic Leap has developed a proprietary human interface technology called “Cinematic Reality”. The company’s Wikipedia entry describes the technology as a “head mounted device which superimposes 3D computer generated imagery over real world objects, by projecting a digital light field into the user’s eye”. It also has been described as “so bad ass you can’t believe it” by Fast Company’s David Lidsky in an article about the B round funding.

The advantage of superimposing VR is that you still see the real world and can still move around without hitting things or getting motion sick. The patent applications for Magic Leap describes a set of Virtual Reality glasses similar to Google Glass, and a multilayered transparent display that blocks light from regions that will superimpose the virtual reality objects, and then adds in the virtual reality objects so that the image is projected onto the user’s eye. The projection is accomplished with a combined zone plate and diffraction pattern on lenses that are curved to cover a wide field of view.

The combined zone plate and diffraction grating has a zone plate with features about 10+ μm covered with diffraction patterns about 0.2 to 0.3 μm in size on a curved surface. Over the years there have been several published examples of multi-scale optical elements fabricated using imprint. Presumably this is where the strategic connection to Molecular Imprints comes in for Magic Leap.

The efforts at MII have culminated in two acquisitions—semiconductor applications to Canon, and an optical application to Magic Leap. There remain two applications that went to Magic Leap, but it’s not apparent how those fit with Magic Leap’s business: patterned media and roll-to-roll. Since demonstrating 1.6 Tb² in in 2013, the hard drive industry seems to have lost confidence in its quest to get to higher density. Apparently, Hitachi Global Storage has canceled its patterned media program, although Seagate is still working on it. Both companies used MII equipment, so this must bring these efforts further into question. In roll-to-roll, MII has published results for wire grid polarizers and touch screens.

It took 15 years for the first major VC-funded entry in imprint lithography to complete the journey from seed funding to acquisition. The question will be where will the industry turn for developing alternative patterning solutions now?

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