Flexible AR display enables real-time digital content

Friday, 02 June, 2023

Flexible AR display enables real-time digital content

Researchers from the University of Melbourne, KDH Design Corporation and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN) have designed a flexible, transparent augmented reality (AR) display screen using 3D printing and low-cost materials. The development of the display screen is set to advance how AR is used across a range of industries and applications.

AR technology overlays digital content onto the real world, enhancing the user’s real-time perception and interaction with their environment. Creating flexible AR technology that can adjust to different angles of light sources has previously been a challenge, as current AR manufacturing uses glass substrates, which must undergo photomasking, lamination, cutting or etching microstructure patterns. These processes are expensive, have a poor yield rate and are difficult to integrate with product appearance designs.

Led by researchers Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan, Professor Christina Lim and Professor Thas Nirmalathas, in collaboration with Taiwanese KDH Design Corporation, the team developed a transparent AR display screen using optical-quality polymer and plastic. The researchers used additive manufacturing techniques, also known as 3D printing, in the fabrication process. The display screen is flexible and versatile, and can bend and fit different shapes, like curved or uneven surfaces that give a designer more freedom to fit a product form factor. The display screen is transparent, providing users with a natural and unobstructed view, while overlaying digital content.

The additive manufacturing techniques facilitate precise control over design and production, resulting in higher-quality products and the potential for cost-effective and scalable mass manufacturing that will make the technology more accessible and affordable for a range of applications. Unnithan said the development represents a breakthrough in the field of AR technology for a range of industries.

“In the gaming industry, flexible and transparent AR displays could be integrated into gaming accessories such as goggles or visors, providing a more immersive and realistic gaming experience. In education, AR displays could be incorporated into educational tools and simulations, allowing for interactive and engaging learning experiences. There are many other potential applications, from transport to tourism,” Unnithan said.

KDH Design Corporation CEO Jeremy Lu said the breakthrough was achieved after four years of collaborative research. “The ultimate AR technology we had in mind, based on our research, had to be very thin, very power efficient and very light, so we can adapt the AR ‘film’ for near-eye applications, such as AR glasses and goggles. We also wanted to be able to use the AR technology for transparent displays, for example, in car windscreens,” Lu said.

Professor Nicolas Voelcker, from the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, said his team were excited to collaborate with KDH Design Corporation and the University of Melbourne to develop new flexible materials for augmented reality displays. “The MCN is a world-class nanofabrication centre, combining cutting-edge technologies with the knowledge and skills of expert process engineers,” Voelcker said.

Image caption: The flexible, transparent polymer-based material will advance how AR is used across a range of industries. Image credit: Cesar Nicolas.

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