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MIT’s nanoparticle infused display. This is what AR should be more like.. (via MIT)

Transparent displays or HUDs (Heads Up Displays) can be found almost anywhere in today’s world, including aircraft, vehicles, fashion wear (Google Glass) and even mounted on firearms (EO Tech holographic weapons system). However, anyone who has ever seen or used one knows that they are not static, meaning it does not stay in one spot when viewed from different angles instead of head on. In some cases, viewing the display from a different angle will make the information presented on the screen vanish, which is bad news, especially if you’re a combat pilot about to put lead on the ground in a strafing run. Another negative issue is that those screens don’t come cheap and some are rather bulky due to the technology housed in them.

The day may come when transparent displays resolve those issues and at a relatively low cost to manufacture, thanks to some researchers from MIT. In a recently released paper published by Nature Communications, the team describes how they developed their new system. Most of the HUDs currently in use, use a beam-splitter (or mirror) to project images onto a projection lens that gives the effect that the information is hovering in the air in front of the user’s face. In order to ‘see’ that information the user’s head needs to be positioned directly in front of the display to view the information. Other HUD types use LEDs for the display with transparent electronics to control them, however the ‘transparency’ is extremely limited and not very practical depending on what it’s being used for. MIT’s new system does away with the projection lens and transmits that information directly on the HUD’s screen, making it possible to see the information no matter what angle the user is looking at it. The secret to their display comes in the form of nano-particles, which are embedded into a thin transparent material (in this case plastic) that can be applied to glass. The tiny particles can be tuned to certain wavelengths of colors and lights that are allowed to pass through the material and become visible directly on the material’s surface, thereby allowing the user to view it at any angle. This allows the user to see everything behind the glass (both colors and objects) while the information is projected on the glass in a single color.

The researchers demonstrated their system using silver nano-particles (60 nano-meters across) to produce blue colored circles that danced around the screen while red and yellow coffee mugs were positioned behind the screen, which were clearly visible. The team say’s that the screen is capable of producing images in full color by blending the base colors of red, green and blue that could then be projected to the display. The technology clearly (pun intended) could be used for purposes other than in combat planes, such as store windows that could show new items on sale, embedded into vehicle windows to show hazards and other information or even into eyeglasses or contact lenses that have a better fashion statement than that of Google Glass. The possibilities are endless.


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