Mitsubishi Electric unveils a display to be ignored

Try on a wearable display -- those in-front-of-the-eyes video displays that some futurists believe we will all be using in a few years -- and you'll soon come up against one of two problems: They are either fixed in front of your eyes, making looking at anything else impossible, or, in the case of those designed to allow for a wider field of vision, are constantly flickering away in the corner of your eyes while you try to concentrate on something else.

Now, engineers at Mitsubishi Electric Corp. have developed a new type of display that should make using and living with head-mounted displays easier. The new display is mounted on a boom designed to be placed just below one eye but will disappear from view when you look away from it. The company has managed this by playing around with the liquid crystal display (LCD) panel and optics of the unit.

Almost all LCD panels have a light in contact with the screen, either in front (a frontlight) or behind it (a backlight). In use in a wearable display, this means the light from the LCD panel is diffused across a large area of the eye and thus even when you look away some of the light from the panel is visible.

The Mitsubishi Electric engineers got around this problem by moving the light about 30 millimeters away from the display panel so that the image is more tightly focused on a small area of the eye. Look down to view the image and you can see it, just as normal. However, look up from the display to see something in front of you, and the image is now hitting a part of the eye away from the pupil, so it becomes invisible. More precisely, a movement of more than 2 millimeters in the vertical plane or 4 millimeters in the horizontal plane puts the display out of view.

Development of the new headset, details of which were announced here today at the company's research and development center in western Japan, is scheduled to be complete by the end of March, said Yukio Sato, group manager of Mitsubishi Electric's laser and optics technology department. From April, the company will work on putting the finishing touches to a development model that will be offered to companies to evaluate.

"We're really keen to see how people will use such a headset," said Sato.

The company already has some ideas: Parents could use it to keep an eye on children while doing something else and emergency service workers could check data as they carry out their duties.

The display unit measures 70 millimeters by 29 millimeters by 18 millimeters and weighs 20 grams.

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Martyn Williams

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