Mersive Solstice

Forget 3D Displays – Physical Pixels are the Future

2 min read

I have to admit, I ignore most newsletters that get past my inbox spam filter – but today’s InAVate digital magazine email blast caught my eye. The magazine is known for its coverage of AV products, but it also covers the more innovative side of visual computing. Today’s cover story is about the work at MIT to bring physical pixels to life.

Forget 3D Displays

A physical pixel is really a “Dynamic Shape Display” that is composed of a set of pixels that take on color (via projection) and depth through physical displacement. Most of us have seen a pinscreen toy that is made up of an array of sliding pins. When you press your hand in it, a 3D depth map of your hand is imaged on the other side. Now envision being able to encode depth in real time from CAD models, real time depth estimation from remote cameras and then program an array of these pins to displace. Illuminate each “pin” with a projector that is aligned to the array and – presto – you’ve got physical pixels.

The MIT guys, being true to form, not only are contributing to the fundamentals of the technology in an academic sense, but they are allowing themselves to dream about potential applications. Take a look at the video to see hints at new forms of telepresence, desks that can actuate, and other exciting potential applications.

The work has its roots in other fields (i.e. – dynamic shader lamps from University of North Carolina, and Takeo Kanade’s dream of virtualized reality that was a major effort at Carnegie-Mellon, but I haven’t seen it so elegantly put together into an actual working prototype unit now.

What do you think: are we looking at a “display” that will be a game changer or another interesting but non-commercializable research path?

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