Nanotechnology Helps 3-D TV Make a Comeback Without Glasses

At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it became clear that the much-ballyhooed age of 3-D TV was coming to a quiet and uncelebrated end. One of the suggested causes of its demise was the cost of the 3D glasses. If you wanted to invite a group over to watch the big sporting event, you had better have a lot of extra pairs on hand, which might cost you a small fortune.

Eliminating the glasses from the experience has been proposed from the first moment 3-D TVs were introduced to the marketplace. In 2010, Toshiba and Nintendo shared their plans to bring glasses-free 3-D to portable devices.

There have been a number of approaches proposed for accomplishing the feat. Now researchers at the University of Central Florida (UCF) are leveraging nanomanufacturing techniques to do the job.

Jayan Thomas, an assistant professor at UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, has received a US $400 000 grant from the National Science Foundation to pursue the use of nanoprinting techniques for turning polymers into displays whose images appear in 3-D to the naked eye. The kind of 3-D displays Thomas envisions conjure images of the holograms used to display messages in the Star Wars movies.

“The TV screen should be like a table top,” Thomas said. “People would sit around and watch the TV from all angles, like sitting around a table. Therefore, the images should be like real-world objects. If you watch a football game on this 3-D TV, you would feel like it is happening right in front of you. A holographic 3-D TV is a feasible direction to accomplish this without the need of glasses.”

The nanomanufacturing techniques Thomas uses are similar to the printing process he developed for creating nanomaterials to be used in supercapacitors—a process that we covered last year. That technique involved printing polymer nanostructures on a substrate that served as a scaffold upon which electrode material made of manganese dioxide is deposited. That technique is a variation on the simple spin-on nanoprinting (SNAP) technique.

With these nanomanufacturing techniques, Thomas has developed a polymer composite that improves the process of making the 3-D images in the first place. When you are watching 3-D television, what you are really seeing is two perspectives of an image, so it is actually not very close to a real world object.  The 3-D glasses help to provide a 3-D appearance of the image. 

"Our technology uses multiple cameras positioned above and around an object to photograph it from multiple perspectives," explains Thomas. "We are then doing a couple of new things; we need to make the recording process so fast that the human eye will not see the images refreshing from the multiple perspectives. This requires new materials options—a new plastic type display on which to play what are ultimately holographic images."

Whether this technique proves to be any more successful than those offered by MIT and other research groups, remains to be seen. In any case, we may not yet have seen the end of 3D TV, as long as it doesn't require glasses.

Illustration: Randi Klett; Photos: iStockphotos

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Nanoclast

IEEE Spectrum’s nanotechnology blog, featuring news and analysis about the development, applications, and future of science and technology at the nanoscale.

 
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Dexter Johnson
Madrid, Spain
 
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Associate Editor, IEEE Spectrum
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