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New transparent augmented reality display replaces glass with optical-quality polymer and plastic

May. 18, 2023.
2 min. read. . 1

Potential uses in gaming, sports, motorcycles, education, healthcare, industry

About the Writer

Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor of Mindplex

Augmented reality can be overlayed on a motorcyclist’s helmet visor to enhance real-time perception and interaction with their environment (credit: KDH Design)

A flexible, transparent augmented reality (AR) display screen, using 3D printing and low-cost materials, has been developed by researchers at the University of Melbourne, KDH Design Corporation and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN). It could advance how AR is used across a wide range of industries and applications, according to the researchers.

AR technology overlays digital content onto the real world, enhancing the user’s real-time perception and interaction with their environment. But creating flexible AR technology that can adjust to different angles of light sources has been a challenge.

Limitations with glass

According to the researchers, this is because current mainstream AR manufacturing uses glass substrates, which must undergo photomasking, lamination, cutting, or etching microstructure patterns. These time-consuming processes are expensive, have a poor yield rate and are difficult to seamlessly integrate with product appearance designs, they note.

Led by University of Melbourne researchers Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan, Professor Christina Lim and Professor Thas Nirmalathas, in collaboration with Taiwanese KDH Design Corporation, the team has developed a transparent AR display screen using low-cost, optical-quality polymer and plastic, a first-of-its-kind achievement in the field of AR displays, say the researchers.

3D printed with flexible shapes

The team used additive manufacturing techniques (3D printing) in the fabrication process. KDH Design Corporation manufactures AR motorbike helmets and military goggles and plans to integrate this new technology into the visor of head-worn devices, such as AR glasses, AR sports goggles and AR helmet and automotive displays.

The display screen is flexible and versatile and can bend and fit different shapes, such as curved or uneven surfaces, giving a designer more freedom to fit a product form factor. The display screen is also transparent, providing users with a natural and unobstructed view while overlaying digital content.

Additive manufacturing techniques also allow for precise control over design and production, resulting in higher quality products, and the potential for cost-effective and scalable mass manufacturing that will make the technology more accessible and affordable for a wider range of applications, according to the researchers.

Potential applications

This represents a breakthrough in the field of AR technology and the potential applications are vast, says Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan. “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,” he suggests.

“In education, AR displays could be incorporated into educational tools and simulations, allowing for interactive and engaging learning experiences. In healthcare, AR displays could be used in medical training, assisting surgeons with real-time information during operations, but there are many other potential applications, from transport to tourism.”

Patents have been filed in the U.S. and the new technology is now ready for mass production, according to KDH Design Corporation.

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