How would you like to be able to use your cell phone, not only as a video camera or a digital camera, but also as a projector? Be patient; two companies are working on it.
A company based in Cambridge, England, is working on miniaturized projection technology. Light Blue Optics, founded in 2004 by four photonics experts from the Cambridge University Engineering Department, secured $2.5 million in venture capital funding in July, and the company hopes to accelerate its product development efforts with the funding.
Light Blue Optics' technology, PVPro, uses laser light sources and diffractive techniques to power what the company calls "light engines." These light engines will be used to create miniature digital video projectors in accessories for cell phones, laptops, PDAs and other battery-powered devices, or in the devices themselves.
The technology uses laser light sources and a phase-modulating liquid crystal on silicon (LCOS) microdisplay. A hologram (or diffraction) pattern is displayed on the display, and when the microdisplay is illuminated by coherent laser light, the physical process of diffraction results in the formation of the desired image.
The models of the light engines that Light Blue Optics is using to demonstrate the technology to potential customers are the size of a matchbox, and the company hopes to make engines that are even smaller.
The consumer applications of these miniaturized projectors are varied and plentiful. For example, the automotive industry may use them for instrument displays (especially the kind that drivers will look up to see) or in-car entertainment. Dr. Edward Buckley, a co-founder of Light Blue Optics, says that by giving a bigger screen to consumers' cell phones, iPods, digital cameras or portable games consoles, this technology will allow several people to see the same picture or view the same movie. It will also enable large-screen displays by using an array of small projectors to create the same large image.
But there are business applications as well, such as the possibility of using your cell phone to project stored images onto a screen. Buckley says there are also possible uses in the aerospace industry, such as in the projection of head-up displays.
Light Blue Optics is demonstrating the technology to manufacturers of cell phones and other electronic devices. "We plan to manufacture and supply projection subsystems (light engines) to our customers, who will then build these into complete end-user products," Buckley says. "This maximizes the market potential for our products, and allows our customers to innovate around the idea of miniature projection."
That means that launch dates for products like these will actually be determined by Light Blue Optic'ss customers. Buckley says that the company expects PVPro to be shipped in commercially available products by the end of 2008.
Meanwhile, DigiSlide, a communications products company in Adelaide, South Australia, also has a technology for giving projection capabilities to cell phones and other battery-powered devices. The technology is called DigiSmart, and the company is seeking private equity investment.