Gatilo V. R., Kaliberda N. V., Sheveleva A. E.

Oles Honchar Dnipropetrovsk National University


At Hewlett Packard Laboratories, a team led by physicist David Fattal has found a way to make 3D, hologram-like displays for tiny screens. And they've done it using inexpensive, readily available parts.

The still images and video created are visible from wide angles, unlike other 3D imaging technologies, which tend to limit how far to one side the viewer can be from the hologram. The research appears today in the journal Nature.

"For a mobile device, it needs a wider angle (than a television) because you are more likely to tilt your hand, and we want the feeling of a virtual object in the screen in front of you," Fattal said at a press briefing.

The HP team built the display using a thin piece of glass, a liquid-crystal display and light-emitting diodes (LEDs). First, the researchers etched 500,000 circles – essentially pixels -- into the surface of the glass, each one comprised of a striped grating pattern made from sub-micrometer-sized grooves. Next, they put a layer of liquid crystal display on top of the glass. Then the scientists surrounded the glass with the LEDs. Light from the LEDs was directed into the glass from the side. Once inside, the light bounced around the thin layer of glass and then escaped out the top through the 500,000 etched pixels.

When the light escaped, it came into contact with the grating patterns, which altered the light's direction. The LCD layer was used to control each pixel's brightness.

Different groups of pixels shining in different directions made one part of a 3D image. In fact, 14 different images are combined to make a three-dimensional picture of say.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology built a tiny device that contains a grid of 4,096 miniature antennas (64 by 64) that steer beams of infrared light to create patterns. Their so-called phased array was able to generate an image "float" it a few millimeters out in front of the grid.

It's the first time anyone has built an array with so many components, as previous attempts only managed 16. It's also the first device of its kind that can steer each beam from an individual antennae in both the vertical and horizontal direction, making it possible to create three-dimensional pictures.

“At a basic level we’re showing that not only can you steer beams actively but also generate new and arbitrary patterns,” said Michael Watts, a professor in the Research Laboratory of Electronics at MIT. That opens up a number of possibilities in holography as well as imaging.

Watts and his colleagues made antennas that control both the phase and intensity of the light it transmits. Two light beams that are 180 degrees out of phase will, if transmitted together, cancel each other out. Meanwhile light waves that are slightly out of phase will interfere with and reinforce each other in certain patterns, making the light look brighter or dimmer depending on how far in or out of phase they are.

That makes an image in the “far field” (it’s some distance away).

Phased arrays aren’t new: modern radar uses them all the time. But Watts and Sun transmitted signals at short wavelengths, in the near infrared as opposed to the radio waves of radar. They also made images, which hadn't been done before with a phased array at those wavelengths.

And because it’s possible to control the phase and intensity of the light, you get more than the illusion of depth from the front: a person standing on any side of the image could be shown a different perspective. A hologram would be truly 3D, and if built with billions of antennas, would produce an image as detailed as any ordinary display. That's because each antennae essentially represents one pixel.

Also you can project an image, It’s the first time anyone has done it with so many pixels. Previous attempts had never managed more than a dozen or so.

Sun and Watts didn't just set records for the size and number of antennas: they did it using ordinary microchip manufacturing methods. That means building a larger-scale device won't require retooling or building whole factories.

The MIT device used near infrared light. To make it work for visible light the only change would be the material the antennas and waveguides are made of -– it has to be something other than silicon. “We’re working on making it in the visible,” Watts said.