Transparent touchscreen devices, such as mobile phones and tablet computers, have taken one step closer to becoming reality after researchers built two transparent systems that use light to help take readings.
Using photonics, researchers from Montreal and New York, used lasers to carve out transparent pathways, called waveguides, into glass.
These act as tunnels that channel light, enabling the creation of sensors not only for device control but also to provide health readings such as temperature, blood sugar levels or even DNA.
The researchers say this would result in the creation of layers of invisible sensors that could be eventually used to create transparent touchscreen phones such as the one wielded by Tony Stark in the Iron Man movies.
“We’re opening the Pandora’s box at the moment,” said the paper’s co-author Raman Kashyap. “It’s up to people to invent new uses.”
The group are the first to implement the technique into Gorilla Glass, which is used on 2.7bn devices around the world.
This includes Nokia, Samsung, Dell and HP technology, with products from smartphones to tablets and notebooks already using the glass.
The technology could potentially be implemented commercially into smartphones within a year, Kashyap said.
The researchers built a temperature sensor that consists of a straight and a curved waveguide.
When the glass heats up it expands and changes the path length of the waveguides.
When the light that emerges from one waveguide interferes with light from another, the device can measure the temperature of anything that touches it.
While waveguides are not brand new, the team say the new photonic waveguide is the best that has been made with lasers, writing in the paper that theirs are ten times better than alternative waveguides.
Layering waveguides within the glass itself paves the way for more compact devices, with more sensors built into them.
The team also used the waveguides to create a new method for authenticating a smartphone.
This was achieved using waveguides with holes at various locations: the light that escapes through the holes creates a unique pattern.
They said each phone would have a unique pattern, which could then be read by an infrared detector to confirm the identity of the phone.
Such a technology could increase the use of phones for payment, a technology which has failed to fully take of since its launch some years ago.
With this technology, phones would have a unique ‘fingerprint’, making the process more secure, and preventing device duplication through bags or pockets.
Featured image: screenshot from Iron Man 2.
Image one courtesy of Optics Express
Image two courtesy of Jerome Lapointe