Frickin’ Lasers! (and Pico Projectors)

Until this weekend, my interest wasn’t very piqued by the whole pico projector trend. They’ve been pretty low-res, low-light, and limited battery-life affairs. Even as a super-heavy traveller, I’ve rarely felt the need to project from my phone or even my laptop w/ a pocketable projector. The space has been heating up recently (720P? >10 Lumens? 2-4hr battery life?), but what really caught my attention was seeing that Microvision was finally releasing a real product using their laser-based projection technology.

Although I’ve never bought a product from Microvision, I feel like I have a bit of a history with them: one where they’ve constantly disappointed by having incredibly cool technology that never made its way into my grubby little hands. Back in the early 2000’s I went through a huge AR nerd period. At the time, with academia failing to pull through with gear, I started looking at what was commercially available, and found the Microvision Nomad – a $4-6K system that had a red laser pointed at your eyeball running Windows CE (breathtaking I know – I decided to wait for the next generation). Unfortunately, after hitting some financial difficulties, Microvision all but abandoned their AR displays, and no one else (Olympus, Brother, Sony, or Microvision themselves) has released any commercial AR overlay displays since (there appears to be a booming military market for these, however)…

Which leads us to Microvision’s recent focus on pico projectors. While this may have been the right financial decision to make, it was always for me, a pretty boring path, both in comparison to the AR products and also when considering the limitations of the projectors themselves. The Microvision SHOW WX at version glance doesn’t seem to be all that great – it’s only 10 lumens, battery life of 1.5-2 hours, and a WVGA resolution. (Oh, and it’s about 50% overpriced compared to its competition.)

That being said, one thing did catch my eye. Because of their projector is laser-based, it has infinite focus. That is exactly what you think it is – multi-planar (and non-planar) projection is automatically focused, no mathematical tricks required.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t awesome math that can’t still be applied. Check out these vids on using structured light and pixel shaders to do some astounding color and geometric correction on arbitrary surfaces:

Of course, there’s even more fun stuff that can be done, with structured light (such an awesome term) like Johnny Lee’s work on projector based tracking:

In the same way that AR on simple magnetometer/accelerometer equipped cell phones (no IMUs or HUDs ma!) proved to have surprisingly useful (well, at least interesting) applications, so will, I suspect, these pico-projectors. Assuming there are some fast GPUs w/ flexible shader pipelines available in portable form… – well, even without that, there should be lots of interesting visual applications…