A woman driving to a job interview gets lost. Not wanting to be late, she pulls up a map and the transparent display appears on her windshield, helping her find her way.
This scenario isn't that far off. MIT scientists said today they used nanotechnology to develop a see-through screen that can be applied as a thin plastic coating on ordinary glass.
MIT researchers used nanoparticles to develop a thin, plastic film that could be used on glass for heads-up displays. (Video: MIT)
Other heads-up display technologies have been developed, but MIT says the new technology has significant differences, including a wide viewing angle, and it can be simply, and potentially inexpensively, manufactured.
The technology, a thin plastic coating applied to the glass, could be used to display navigation or dashboard information while looking through the windshield of a car or plane, or to project video onto a window or a pair of eyeglasses, the university said.
A retailer might also use it one day to display an image on a store window, while still allowing passers-by to see what's inside the store.
"This is a very clever idea using the spectrally selective scattering properties of nanoparticles to create a transparent display," said Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford University, who did not work on the project. "I think it is a beautiful demonstration," he said in a statement.
Other heads-up displays project images into the user's eyes, making it appear that the image is hovering in space, noted MIT. The drawback with that process is that the user's eyes must be in a precise position to see the image.
With still other displays, electronics are built into the glass itself, which is more expensive.
However, with MIT's display technology, the image can be seen from many different angles because it's projected onto the glass, not into the eyes. And the transparent film should be easy and relatively cheap to produce.
The key to the new display film is that researchers embedded nanoparticles into the film itself. The nanoparticles can be set up to only scatter particular wavelengths, or colors or light, while letting everything else pass through. That way, users can still see through the glass even when an image is visible on it.
So far, the scientists have only tested the display film using a blue image, but they expect it to work with full-color images.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.