Light sensor technology marks major step on the road to transparent touchscreens

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.

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An invisible waveguide (pathway for light) being written via laser into a smartphone’s display glass is shown. The waveguide is a horizontal line from the left side of the screen, but it cannot be seen with the naked eye.

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.

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Photograph of the laser writing setup.

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 


Augmented reality must provide people with more than a ‘wow moment’

Augmented reality needs to provide people with more than just an initial ‘wow moment’ for it to be truly successful.

This was the view of Barry Richardson of Oakley Mobile as he spoke at Internet World, part of London Technology Week.
Richardson said there needs to be more than an initial trick.

At present augmented reality is still being discovered by consumers for the first time but it will have to offer more for people to return to apps that use it.

He said that augmented reality will get better in the coming years as technology improves but as it does the user needs to get more from it.

“The technology is going to get better. It is going to become more accessible and more mobile.

“Augmented Reality is here to stay but it is only as good as you use it,” he said.

Oakley has used its augmented reality technology to create a variety of different types of content.

He said their augmented reality is powered by game engines, which allow more powerful levels of interactivity.

This has included augmented reality apps for museums which show interactive talks of what is being displayed at the museums.

This includes using green screen technology to film video elements of the augmented reality which are then woven into the app of the service.

Richardson denied that technology is killing the print industry and said that it is working with a lot of companies to try and bring their print to life.

He said the company has used augmented reality on company brochures which has helped turn what could be boring reports into interactive and easy to digest material.

It was confirmed today that UK augmented reality startup has purchased its fellow competitor Layar.

In a post on its website Blippar said: “With this acquisition, we have established one of the biggest data footprints for consumer AR use around the world- another exciting step on the path to turning the physical world around us interactive.

“By bringing the two businesses together, we look forward to harnessing Layar’s technical insight and practical know-how and combining it with our own to effectively ‘own’ the AR and visual browsing space, and sow the seeds for mass consumer adoption.”

However, the cost of the deal was not made public.


Featured image courtesy of Turkletom via Flickr/Creative Commons Licence