For decades, engineers have envisioned wearable displays for pilots, surgeons, and mechanics. But so far, a compact wearable display that's easy to interact with has proved elusive.
Researchers at Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems (IPMS) have now developed a screen technology that could help make wearable displays more compact and simpler to use. By interlacing photodetector cells--similar to those used to capture light in a camera--with display pixels, the researchers have built a system that can display a moving image while also detecting movement directly in front of it. Tracking a person's eye movements while she looks at the screen could allow for eye-tracking control: instead of using hand controls or another form of input, a user could flip through menu options on a screen by looking at the right part of the screen. The researchers envisage eventually integrating the screen with an augmented-reality system. [...]
Eye-tracking technology is nothing new, of course. Over the years, researchers have developed a number of systems that follow a person's gaze to allow him or her to interface with a computer. Often, the applications are for physically impaired people, but they can also be designed for a general computer user. [...]
The researchers built the system by first designing a light-sensing chip, which features a pattern of evenly spaced photodetectors. This was then fabricated at a commercial semiconductor manufacturing facility. A wafer containing multiple chips was then placed in a deposition chamber, where layers of organic material were deposited in between the photodetectors. These layers make up the organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, that create the display. The mosaic of photodetectors and OLEDs is then encapsulated in a thin polymer film to protect it. [...]
The camera in the researchers' current prototype is still fairly rudimentary. It has a resolution of only 12 pixels, which means that it can't yet track a user's eye movements. However, Scholles says that the team has developed a 160-by-120-resolution version of the camera chip that has been tested in the lab, but not yet integrated with a display. The researchers expect to have an advanced version of the system, complete with higher-resolution camera and full eye-tracking capability, by early 2011."