MIT’s cool new transparent screen tech could mean better heads-up displays

Heads-up displays let drivers or pilots keep their eye on their route while also getting critical dashboard or other information. This is getting more important as auto makers cram more infotainment and data into their vehicles. But most of today’s HUDs are limited — the user has to hold her head just so to keep that data in sight.

But new displays under development at MIT embed nanoparticles “tuned” to various wavelengths, into transparent material.Those particles react to display their assigned colors, while letting the rest pass through. The particles can be embedded in a thin plastic sheet layered over glass, for example. The result is that the required colors show clearly while the rest pass right through, keeping the world beyond the screen visible.

Older HUDs often use a mirror to project the data image onto the user’s eyes or glasses — the image appears to hang in space, and the use of that mirror or beamsplitter is what limits use if the user moves.  Other displays put electronics directly into the glass — an expensive proposition.

The potential of this work, featured Tuesday in Nature Communications, is to enable a new class of more affordable and flexible HUDs. Check out the video below, courtesy of MIT News’ Melanie Gonick.