Peering into the future of displays: Holographic glasses, 3D screens abound at CEATEC

konica minolta 3d glasses
Credit: Tim Hornyak

Konica Minolta thinks it has something unique to add to the emerging smart glasses field—holographic know-how.

The photocopier maker is showing prototypes of glasses that project holographic images at the Ceatec 2014 tech expo outside Tokyo this week.

The glasses feature what the company calls a holographic optical element (HOE), a transparent film that sits on the right lens of the glasses while a bulky, cylindrical electronics module lies on top of it.

A relatively large battery unit is connected to the prototype glasses by a wire. The device also houses Wi-Fi and Bluetooth modules for smartphone connectivity.

During a demonstration with a stand-alone HOE mounted on a rack, various full-color images could be seen through it overlaid on a background video of a busy city street.

The device displayed a timetable, radio station information and other information. When a small toy car was placed in front of the HOE, 3D graphics could be seen projected on the car.

The graphics were easy to see compared to using Google Glass. The scenery behind the HOE was also quite clear.

Eighty percent of visible light can penetrate the element, according to Konica Minolta. The prototype device is still in development, and could also be fitted to regular glasses.

“This is a combination of optics and networking technology,” said Keisuke Mitsui of Konica Minolta’s Corporate R&D Headquarters. “We’re listening to what potential users and partners have to say while exploring applications.”

The technology could be used in applications ranging from displaying text typed on a linked keyboard to goggles that would relay rescue information to firefighters. It would first be marketed to enterprises, according to the company, which did not give a timeline for commercialization.

Peering into the future

elliptic gesture smartphone Tim Hornyak

Elliptic Labs' gesture controlled smartphone.

Other prototypes that resemble holograms were also on display at Ceatec. It’s part of a wider trend, still in its early stages, to move beyond static screens and touchscreen interfaces to 3D displays with gesture control.

Healthcare electronics maker Omron, which showcased a table tennis robot at the exhibition, also demonstrated an LED-based technology that seems to project 3D images in the air.

With the awkward name of “Aerial Imaging by See-Through Light-Guide Plate,” the technology consists of various LEDs that move along the bottom edge of clear plastic sheets.

In one set of sheets, a colored 3D ring could be seen, apparently floating in space. Another set showed directional 3D arrows pointing the way over a background image of a highway.

While one sheet can display one image, adding multiple sheets enables animated images. The sheets are flexible and can be wrapped around glass or other transparent objects.

The approach requires far fewer components than other 3D image projection methods that use concave mirrors and other elements, according to Omron. The sheets can also be mass-produced as they are relatively cheap.

The company said applications include 3D billboards, station signage, window displays and gestural interfaces, as seen in another display of a 3D switch that appeared to float in the air. When visitors waved their hands over it, the switch would toggle on or off.

The University of Tokyo, meanwhile, was also exhibiting a hologram-style display, albeit a decidedly more complex one.

Visitors to the university’s exhibit were presented with six blocks next to a hand-tracking Kinect, a projector and a special reflective surface by Asukanet that was shown off at Ceatec last year. An animated baby bird appeared to float above the blocks and would fall down when a block was removed. The projector would also project a “shadow” under the chick to make it seem more real.

“This has been developed as an entertainment system, but signage applications are also possible,” said Kim Hanyuool, an interfaces researcher and PhD candidate at the university.

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