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  • Bursting into sight

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2015

3-D movies are cumbersome spectacles. While it’s fun to see our entertainment reaching out to us from the big screen, we are obligated to wear large plastic glasses that, as much as they might try to do otherwise, just get in the way. They slide down our noses, squeeze our temples and, in the cruelest of cases, even give some of us a pounding headache. A night at the movies turns into an unexpected annoyance. Now, however, a new technology may give us the freedom to throw those glasses by the wayside and allow 3-D displays to be seen by the naked eye.

TriLite Technologies and researchers at the Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) have created a laser display that sends beams of light directly to viewers’ eyes. While 3-D movies show only two pictures – one for each eye – the newly developed technology can present hundreds of pictures. The autostereoscopic display consists of separate picture elements, or trixels, created by lasers and a movable MEMS mirror.

“The mirror directs the laser beams across the field of vision, from left to right,” said Dr. Ulrich Schmid at TU Vienna. “During that movement, the laser intensity is modulated so that different laser flashes are sent into different directions.”

The display’s angular resolution is so fine that the lasers present the viewer’s left eye and right eye with different pictures, creating a 3-D effect. By synchronizing the micromirror actuation with the 3-D image information, each trixel can display several thousand autostereoscopic views. Walking by the display, one can view the 3-D object from different sides.

TU Vienna
The first prototype of the 3-D Display.

“We believe that glasses-free 3-D displays are inevitably the next step in the evolution of outdoor displays,” said Franz Fidler, chief technology officer at TriLite. “Since conventional autostereoscopic technologies cannot be simply adapted to outdoor screens due to their inherent loss in resolution and luminance, we had to come up with a completely new concept. Now, three years later, we are very excited to finally demonstrate our first prototype display.”

Now the technology must be expanded. “We are creating a second prototype which will display color pictures with a higher resolution,” said Jörg Reitterer, research and development engineer at TriLite. “But the crucial point is that the individual laser pixels work. Scaling it up to a display with many pixels is not a problem.”

The display is much more vivid than typical movie screens, making the technology useful for the outdoors, even in bright sunlight. Not only is this important for 3-D presentations, but it could be used for targeted advertisements. Electronic billboards potentially could present different ads for different angles.

“Maybe someone wants to appeal specifically to the customers leaving the shop across the street, and a different ad is shown to the people waiting at the bus stop,” said Ferdinand Saint Julien-Wallsee, CEO of TriLite.

Mass production possibilities currently are being discussed with electronics and photonics manufacturers, but the details are under wraps for now. The technology’s commercial launch is scheduled for 2016.

The observable illustration of an image, scene or data on a screen such as a console or cathode-ray tube, seen as a graph, report or drawing.
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