WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
One day we won’t have screens, one day images could be beamed directly into your eyes from a distance, and this is the first step.
A while ago I wrote about a team who wanted to use laser beams to beam images directly into your eyes, a type of technology called a screenless display. And I also reported that elsewhere, in a major hat tip to Cyclops in the X-Men another team had already shown off a new form of ocular laser that lets people shoot laser beams from their eyes.
However, while only the latter was a real thing up until now, now the former is a real thing too after researchers at Bosch in Germany put a new twist on Augmented Reality (AR) smart glasses and the recently announced AR smart contact lenses I wrote about recently, and showed off their new Light Drive glasses that beam images directly onto users’ eyeballs with tiny lasers.
Ultimately the idea behind these types of technologies and screenless displays will be to create the effect of AR, Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR) without the need to use or wear bulky headsets or gear like Microsoft Hololense or Oculus Rift.
The glasses, which IEEE Spectrum‘s Evan Ackerman tested at CES, require a mildly-annoying custom fitting to make sure the lasers actually hit the wearer’s retina, but after that they can beam images, text, notifications, and directions into your field of vision, potentially heralding an era of smart glasses that aren’t painfully dorky.
Furthermore, as our ability to control these laser beams improves, as the technology miniaturises, and as we’ve already demonstrated with the arrival of the world’s first real holograms that controls the laser beam with nanometre accuracy, we can also see a future when you could bake this technology into, for example, a smart watch. A laser system combined with a built in positioning system could then beam VR straight into your eyeballs without you ever needing to go anywhere near a pair of glasses and without the inconvenience of you having to make sure your eyes are lined up with a set of lenses – much in the same way some companies are now delivering personalised sound to people’s ears in both traditional ways as well as, again, using lasers using a technology called photoacoustics, irrespective of the angle or position of their heads.
The eye lasers rely on two year old tech built by Intel, and for now it’s not clear when the Light Drive might actually make its way into consumers’ hands.
Based on Ackerman’s account, the glasses are pretty good at tricking the human brain into perceiving the image at various distances. The lasers can change the size of whatever text or image they’re beaming and, because doing so doesn’t require any shift in focus, making them seem closer or farther away as necessary.
One advantage to using eye lasers, once you get past the unsettling idea that you’re shooting lasers straight into your eyeballs, is that wearers can always look away from dead center to stop seeing the display.
“As soon as the contextual display is turned on, you see a bright, sharp, colorful image hanging right out in front of you,” said Ackerman, and you can learn more about the technology from the video above.