Breakthrough for augmented reality display technology

The world's first flexible, transparent augmented reality (AR) display screen has been created using additive manufacturing and low-cost materials. This development will revolutionise how AR is used across a range of industries and applications.

Augmented reality (AR) technology is a technology that overlays digital content, such as virtual objects or information, onto the real world, enhancing the user’s perception and interaction with their environment in real time. From gaming, to educational simulations, to medical training, and beyond, AR can be experienced through various devices, such as smartphones, tablets, smart glasses and headsets.

Until now, the challenge has been to create AR technology that is both flexible and capable of adjusting to different angles of light sources coming into a viewer’s eyes.

University of Melbourne researchers, in collaboration with KDH Design Corporation, a Taiwanese company, and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, have achieved a ground-breaking advancement in the field of augmented reality display technology. Led by Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan, Professor Christina Lim and Professor Thas Nirmalathas, the team has successfully developed a world-first, transparent AR display screen using low-cost, optical-quality polymer and plastic.

This breakthrough is a significant milestone in AR display technology, as it marks the first time a flexible, transparent AR display screen has been created using this type of material. This, together with the use of additive manufacturing techniques – also known as 3D printing – in the fabrication process is a pioneering approach in the field of AR displays.

KDH Design Corporation has previously manufactured AR motorbike helmets, and military goggles for the Taiwan Ministry of Defence and will be integrating the new AR optical design technology for a variety of applications including transport, military, gaming, entertainment and medical surgery.

This breakthrough in AR display technology has far-reaching implications for various industries, including gaming, education and healthcare.

The flexibility of the display screen allows for more versatile forms, making it adaptable to various surfaces, such as curved or irregular shapes. The transparency of the display screen enables users to have a more natural and unobstructed view of the real world, while overlaying digital content, enhancing the overall user experience.

The use of additive manufacturing techniques in the fabrication process offers several benefits. It allows for precise control over the design and production of the AR display screen, resulting in higher quality and more consistent products. It also has the potential for cost-effective and scalable mass manufacturing, making the technology more accessible and affordable for a wider range of applications.

The potential applications of this breakthrough in AR display technology are vast. 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.

And in healthcare, AR displays could be used in medical training, assisting surgeons with real-time information during operations.

Next steps

The intellectual property and patents for this research are owned by KDH Design Corporation, a long-time partner of the University of Melbourne, which is eager to continue collaborating on future research.

US patents have been filed, and the new technology is now ready for mass production.

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First published on 17 May 2023.

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