Researchers at Cornell University have developed a new system for rapidly scanning wide areas with a laser beam using a rapidly moving mirror. If the technology hits its potential, a dime-sized projector could cast an image about a meter wide from only half a meter away.
The concept works by using a tiny mirror, about 1/2-millimeter across, suspended by carbon fibers. The fibers then amplify vibrations of a piezoelectric motor, which in turn moves the mirror. Then a laser is focused on the mirror, and the mirror moves the laser beam very rapidly back and forth. Currently, the prototype only can move the beam horizontally, but future enhancements will allow for vertical movements as well. Then, add red, green and blue lasers and you have a teensy projector. This approach would “paint” an image in a similar way to a CRT.
DLP, one of today’s leading projection technologies, uses similar a concept. Texas Instruments’ DLP chips move an array of millions of tiny mirrors to create a picture. Now this research breakthrough could mean that the concept could get a whole lot smaller. The Cornell invention is said to be able scan over a very wide range and at a high scanning speed using a very small mirror.
According to the researchers, they have achieved mirror vibration frequencies of 35,000 cycles per second. Theoretically, this would be sufficient to produce a 720p image at 60fps, although there is some concern about flicker at this early stage.
A prototype projector should be ready within a year, with commercial products, to be developed by the researchers’ startup business, Mesmeriz, likely within three to five years.