LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Sept. 22, 2010 — The projector of the future, 1 cm³ of technology that can be integrated into a portable computer or mobile telephone, is about to take the market by storm.
Lemoptix, a spinoff of École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), in collaboration with the Maher Kayal Laboratory, completed its development at the beginning of September. It is expected to be on the market by the end of 2011. Many applications have already been identified, in particular in the automobile industry or the operating theater.
A prototype for a pocket projector for your smartphone.
With a projection head of 1 cm³ and a total size smaller than a credit card, this mini projector also can be integrated in an MP3 reader, all the while keeping its bright, high-quality image. The device will enable the projection of documents and videos onto a wall, in the same way as current fixed beamers. The size of the image can be adjusted simply by modifying the distance between the beamer and the projection surface; the resulting image remains uniformly clear.
Another advantage: The projector uses very little energy, requiring on average 30 percent less current than the matrix- or LED-based technology now available. This solution, now being finalized, should be available in 2011 for industrial applications, and the following year, for consumer electronics, according to Nicolas Abelé, technical director of the startup, which is located in EPFL Science Park.
Microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) are only beginning to be used as a basis for the next generation of optical material. “This microprojector functions using tiny mirrors of less than a millimeter’s thickness. Positioned on a silicon [wafer] disk, they reflect red, blue and green laser beams,” explained Maher Kayal, the EPFL research director who developed the microelectronic aspects of the system.
The device, contained in a 3 x 4-mm glass case, oscillates so rapidly that the beam can scan a surface up to 20,000 times a second. In August, Kayal’s team generated a color image in VGA resolution (640 x 480 px) for the first time.
The pocket projector works at a minimum distance of 50 cm and enables the projection of images onto a surface equivalent to a 15-in. screen. Over the past few months, the Lemoptix team has considerably improved the architecture of the optical head containing the laser light sources and the MEMS mirrors, reducing the size of the device and its energy consumption. The manufacturing and assembly processes also have been defined and the first subcontractors identified. Moreover, the company succeeded in raising CHF1.4 million of new funds at the end of August.
The technology has many advantages that will enable it to succeed in the market. “The microcomponents used can be manufactured in thousands, even tens of thousands, at low cost,” Abelé said. It will be developed from now until the end of 2011 for industrial applications; e.g., it could be used by automobile manufacturers to project information directly onto the windshield, such as speed or GPS information. Medical technology companies already have shown interest: The technology could be used to beam information related to an operation directly onto the patient, avoiding the surgeon having to lift his head to look at a screen. The improved brightness and contrast will enable it to replace LCD screens.
The Lemoptix team already is envisioning the creation of an interactive version that would allow the user to touch the projected image to zoom or change the screen.
For more information, visit: actu.epfl.ch