Huge ultra-realistic outdoor 3D displays without glasses planned for next year

The boundaries of reality are about to dissolve
January 19, 2015

(Credit: TriLite Technologies)

Vienna University of Technology (TU Vienna) physicists have designed a radical autostereoscopic (“glasses-free”) laser display that will send different ultrathin laser beams directly to individual viewers’ eyes, with full sunlight readability. The objective: create a realistic 3D illusion that changes as viewers walk or fly around the virtual object, with up to several thousand 3D viewing zones — each zone displaying a different view.

TU Vienna spinoff TriLite Technologies has created a prototype with a resolution of 5 x 3 pixels — enough to prove that the concept works, says Jörg Reitterer, TriLite Technologies R&D engineer and PhD student at TU Vienna.

How the TriLite Technologies autostereoscopic system works

(Credit: TU Vienna)

Current 3D movies only show two different pictures — one slightly different for each eye. The new display can create hundreds or thousands of pictures — one for each viewing location (or viewer). Each 3D pixel (“trixel”) is created by three lasers and a moveable mirror, explains R&D engineer Ulrich Schmid. “The mirror directs the laser beams across the field of vision. During that movement, the laser intensity is modulated so that different laser flashes are sent into different directions.”

So if you were walking, driving, or flying by the hypothetical display shown above, you would be seeing the leopard from constantly shifting different angles — even different sides. The display is designed to be amazingly bright, so it can be used outdoors, even in bright sunlight.

Schematic of MEMS mirror (right) for generating trixels in a specific set of x, y, and z axes for one specific viewing zone, using an integrated three-laser light source (expanded image left). The laser diode and the MEMS mirror driving signals are generated by a field-programmable gate array (FPGA) on a separate development board. (Credit: Jörg Reitterer et al./Optics Express)

The researchers expect the second prototype to be finished by mid-2015, with commercial launch scheduled for 2016. And yes, existing 3D movies can be converted into the new format, the researchers say.

Targeting specific people or places

TriLite Technologies is initially planning electronic billboards for outdoor advertising. These could display different ads (or messages) — each ad only viewable from specific locations. “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,” says Ferdinand Saint-Julien, CEO of TriLite Technologies.

As the researchers’ open-access Optics Express paper explains, current autostereoscopic (glasses-free) designs* incorporate optical elements such as lenticular arrays in front of the display panel to send the image information of a subset of the display pixels in distinct, tightly constrained directions. However, “the native resolution of the underlying LCD as well as the luminance is reduced by a factor equal to the number of viewing zones, which significantly reduces both image quality and sunlight readability.”


*An example of the limitations of current autostereoscopic technology is Samsung’s 110-inch 8K glasses-free 3D TV, displayed at the January 2015 International CES, described here.

UPDATE: “TU Vienna spinoff” removed.

Abstract of Design and evaluation of a large-scale autostereoscopic multi-view laser display for outdoor applications

State-of-the-art autostereoscopic displays often do not comply with mandatory requirements for outdoor use, because of their limitations in size, luminance, number of 3D viewing zones, and maximum 3D viewing distances. In this paper we propose a concept for a modular autostereoscopic multi-view laser display with sunlight readable luminance, theoretically up to several thousand 3D viewing zones, and maximum 3D viewing distances of up to 70 meters. Each picture element contains three laser diodes, a cylindrical microlens, as well as a MEMS mirror, which deflects the collimated light beams to the left and right eyes of multiple viewers in a time-multiplexed manner. To demonstrate the principle, we have developed a prototype display with 5 x 3 picture elements.