Researchers create world’s first flexible and transparent augmented reality display using 3D printing

Researchers from the University of Melbourne, in collaboration with KDH Design Corporation and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN), have achieved a significant milestone in the field of augmented reality (AR) technology. They have developed the world’s first flexible and transparent AR display screen using 3D printing and affordable materials.

AR technology superimposes digital content onto the real world, enhancing the user’s perception and interaction with their environment. The challenge has been creating flexible AR technology that can adapt to different angles of light sources. Conventional AR manufacturing relies on glass substrates and complex processes like photomasking, lamination, cutting, or etching microstructure patterns, which are time-consuming, expensive, and challenging to integrate seamlessly with product designs.

Led by Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan, Professor Christina Lim, and Professor Thas Nirmalathas from the University of Melbourne, in partnership with KDH Design Corporation from Taiwan, the team successfully developed a transparent AR display screen using cost-effective optical-quality polymers and plastics. This breakthrough sets a new standard in AR display technology.

The researchers utilized additive manufacturing techniques, commonly known as 3D printing, in the fabrication process. This innovative approach distinguishes their work from previous attempts in the field. KDH Design Corporation, which specializes in manufacturing AR motorbike helmets and military goggles, will incorporate this cutting-edge technology into the visor of head-worn AR devices, such as glasses, sports goggles, helmets, and automotive displays.

The newly created display screen is flexible, allowing it to conform to different shapes, including curved or uneven surfaces, granting designers more freedom in product form factors. Moreover, the screen is transparent, ensuring users have an unobstructed and natural view while overlaying digital content seamlessly.

Furthermore, additive manufacturing techniques provide precise control over the design and production process, resulting in higher-quality products. This capability also opens up possibilities for cost-effective and scalable mass production, making this technology more accessible and affordable for various applications.

Associate Professor Ranjith Unnithan expressed his excitement about this breakthrough, highlighting its vast potential in multiple industries. In the gaming sector, for example, flexible and transparent AR displays could be integrated into accessories like goggles or visors, enhancing the immersive and realistic gaming experience for users.

Overall, the development of this flexible and transparent AR display screen using 3D printing and low-cost materials represents a significant advancement in the field of AR technology, with broad-ranging applications on the horizon.

The flexible, transparent polymer-based material will advance how AR is used across a range of industries. Credit: Cesar Nicolas

After four years of collaborative research, the University of Melbourne, KDH Design Corporation, and the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication (MCN) have achieved a significant breakthrough in AR technology. This advancement has opened up numerous possibilities in various fields.

In the education sector, AR displays can be integrated into educational tools and simulations, providing interactive and engaging learning experiences. The healthcare industry can benefit from AR displays during medical training, where surgeons can receive real-time information during operations. However, the potential applications extend beyond these sectors, including transport and tourism.

Jeremy Lu, CEO of KDH Design Corporation and a University of Melbourne alumnus, emphasized that the breakthrough was the result of years of research. The team aimed to create an AR technology that was thin, power-efficient, and lightweight, making it suitable for near-eye applications like AR glasses and goggles. They also had the vision of utilizing the AR technology for transparent displays, such as car windscreens.

Younger Liang, CTO of KDH Corporation, expressed gratitude for the collaboration between KDH, the University of Melbourne, and the researchers. This collaboration enabled them to develop a prototype that fulfilled their vision, and they are now eager to commercialize the technology for a wide range of applications.

Professor Nicolas Voelcker, Scientific Director of the Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication, expressed excitement about supporting KDH Design Corporation and the University of Melbourne in their efforts to develop flexible materials for AR displays. The Melbourne Centre for Nanofabrication is a renowned center for nanofabrication, equipped with state-of-the-art technologies and expert process engineers.

The intellectual property and patents resulting from this research are owned by KDH Design Corporation. As research collaborators with the University of Melbourne since 2019, both entities are enthusiastic about continuing their collaboration for future research. Patents have been filed in the United States, and the new technology is now ready for mass production.

Source: University of Melbourne

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