Alex is officially back in China, and we are continuing to push toward the release of SPUD, the first collapsible display. In this update we wanted to give an in-depth overview of the different components of SPUD to show the progress across multiple areas, and to discuss which parts specifically are impacting our schedule. Our path to release is currently bottlenecked by two SPUD components: the shroud and the custom optics. This update is a long one, and it delves into a bit of technical detail. For those of you not interested in that level of detail, here is a high level summary:
Below we give an update on each of the main SPUD parts, with a special focus on the shroud and Custom Optics as the main drivers of our schedule.
The Shroud: The fabric component at the back of SPUD
One of our many findings since beginning manufacturing is that we need a higher dye level than is standard in China to prevent the shroud fabric from running and dying the screen when SPUD is collapsed. Given the complications we have faced with the shroud, we have been pursuing multiple potential resolutions in an attempt to minimize schedule delay:
Given the good initial results of option #2, we now believe we are on the best path to finalize the shroud. However, we still need a solution that will allow us to build the pilot units in a timely fashion. We may use the commercially available fabric for our pilot units—even if it does not meet our full quality standards—since this aesthetics issue would not impact SPUD functionality. This will depend on the final samples and the sourcing timelines for each. We will receive samples this week and believe we can have this decision finalized quickly, after which we will go to template master to begin production of the pilot test shrouds.
The Custom Optics: Shortens the projection distance so SPUD can fit on your desk
The optics component is a critical piece of the SPUD projection system: it is the part that significantly reduces the projection distance while keeping the rectangular shape and sharpness of the projected image. This week we confirmed a production scale-up issue that will likely drive our shipping schedule. The details:
The specific part of the optics system impacted by this issue is the front lens, which is the largest lens. The front lens is fairly complex asphere (i.e. more complex shape than sphere to provide greater optical correction) with varying thicknesses across the part, which requires a great deal of precision to produce. In injection molding, varying thickness means varying time of cool down, which leads to different shrinkage at different areas. The micron level shrinkage is trivial for normal plastic, but important for precision lens. In other words, this design is complicated, and not many companies in the world can produce it.
As we have scaled up in test quantity, we have seen inconsistent results: We have found small imperfections in the majority of the lenses produced at quantity, most regularly at the corners of the image but not consistent overall. These imperfections are difficult to detect, but they become noticeable once a system is assembled and tested (we would see some slight blurring in one of the corners, for example). Our supplier believes they have found the root cause of this issue and has already made corrections to their production equipment. However, the changes require new molds, which still need to go through the complete compensation/optimization process again.
Alex and George evaluate the lens samples with our supplier
Creating a new mold and producing a new batch of lenses is a significant task. Once the new molds are created and optimized, and we confirm that the issue has been resolved, the supplier needs approximately one month to produce the quantity required for production. To avoid delay on the pilot builds, we will be manually screening the existing lenses to find samples that are “good enough” to use for our pilot test phase, but it is unclear at this point how many that will be. This means that we may decide to move forward with the pilot testing using lenses with imperfections, depending on the level of severity. We are already moving forward with this plan, and we will continue to direct our focus on this issue as our main bottleneck to release.
Projector: Forms the projected image
The SPUD chassis and projection engine are complete. We have been working with our supplier to fix some bugs and improve the quality over the last 6 months. At this point, we have paid for and received the quantity needed for manufacturing. The next step will be to extensively conduct sampling quality control review to make sure the projector samples meet our quality standards.
Screen: The first wrinkle mitigant projection screen
The screen material is ready for pilot testing, and we have received the necessary quantity required. We have done some fine-tuning of the screen material and run long-term tests to capture and assess wrinkle rejection, and we will continue to test performance via the pilot test.
Arms: Pop-up and collapse your SPUD
Design and testing is complete. We made some small design adjustments based on the results of our 10k pop-up cycle test, and the design now successfully achieves 10k+ cycles. We expect to receive the pilot build quantity this week.
Protective Cover: Protects your SPUD while it is in your bag
We have finished and received the quantity required for the pilot build, and we are currently finalizing the QC details. Once that is complete, we will be ready to start the manufacturing of mass production quantity.
Factory assembly requirements
Our assembly factory, also sometimes referred to as our CM, is responsible for the plastic chassis, the projector control electronics (including battery and speaker), certification testing, and assembling and testing each SPUD. All parts are ready for pilot builds. We are working with our manufacturer to develop alternate suppliers to help alleviate long lead times for printed circuit board and avoid any future delays.
In summary, the majority of the SPUD components are ready for the pilot build, and we are currently being held up by the shroud fabric material and the front lens of the optical system. We believe we have a reasonable path forward to finalize the shroud material, so we will be focusing on the lens as the critical bottleneck moving forward. Our target date for release is February 9, 2018, with the date of our pilot test TBD depending on the shroud material and lens quantity. This release date is primarily driven by the updated lens production time.
In the News
On November 8th, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo of New York announced the finalists in New York State's first-ever Luminate NY accelerator competition. Out of over 100 companies from around the world, Arovia was chosen as one of the top ten optics startups to be a part of the initiative’s first cohort, which includes an initial investment of $100,000! Arovia and the other finalists were recognized by New York State Senator Joe Robach as creators “of innovative technology that has the potential to revolutionize how we live our lives.” See the full press release here: http://www.governor.ny.gov/
We would like thank all of our backers again for your continued support and patience as we continue to work through production prep.
-Leonard, Justin, George, and Alex