April 1st Exclusive: Global Immersion Sneak Preview of Its New SmartPixel [tm] Technology31 March 2009
Blooloop: I’m here with Global Immersion’s CEO, Martin Howe (below right), to follow up on industry rumours we’ve uncovered about a revolutionary new display technology, aimed at dome and Large format displays which could also be applied to a wide range of display applications. Martin, tell me, is it true, we hear you’ve been working on a fundamentally new kind of pixel based display technology?
Martin Howe: Well yes. We’re a little annoyed frankly that’s it’s leaked out. It’s an idea we’ve been working on for a while now. We build very high resolution, very large format digital displays for domes such as Planetariums theatres using fairly conventional technologies, tiling projectors together to create one giant image. However our innovation department took a clean sheet of paper approach to the problem and have come up with a technology that we call SmartPixelTM.
Bl: Interesting name, what makes it so smart?
MH: Quite a lot we think. The problem we come up against is to create extremely high resolution displays in dome screen theatres for members of the public. So we took a holistic approach and asked, what issues do we need to address? After some thinking the list becomes quite extensive. Of course there’s the obvious problems of creating a seamless display with lots of pixels running at very high frequencies. But it doesn’t stop there. What about sound to go along with the pictures? Also most of these dome screens are installed above the audience so we need to deal with heat from the theatre and air-conditioning. We even have to consider fire sprinkler systems.
Bl: Sounds complex, how does SmartPixel[tm] deal with all those issues?
MH: In two words – integration and miniaturisation. We wanted to integrate all of the features into one device – a smart pixel. Each pixel has to be extremely small, only a few millimetres (1/16”) across. So for that we need to adopt the latest nanotechnologies. Each pixel performs a range of functions. Of course it emits coloured light to produce the image. An on board nano-processor determines the value of red, green and blue that each pixel emits at any point in time. Using the latest Organic LED (OLED) technology we can build an array of very small, lightweight, light emitting pixels that we literally connect together to build a fully scalable display surface. But we don’t stop there. To deal with the challenge of airflow through the screen we perforate the pixels with thousands of tiny holes to let air through. An electron beam etching machine will perforate each pixel such that the holes are invisible but still large enough to let air pass through. Sound is produced through surface wave transducers which literally vibrate the entire pixel, groups of pixels combine together to create higher volumes and each pixel can be activated for extremely localised sound.
Bl: A fascinating concept.
MH: It doesn’t stop there. To address the theatre fire hazard each pixel has its own tiny heat sensitive polymer sack on the back filled with a few droplets of water. In the event of a fire the sack bursts and lets the water through the air perforations. Due to the tiny size the water is atomised as it passes through the holes and because of the sheer quantity of pixels a fine water mist fills the theatre dousing the flames.
Bl: That’s amazing. This sounds very complex, it must be difficult to install.
MH: No not really, we’ve thought of that too. Because of the small size and low mass of each pixel they fix together using a kind of semi-metallic velcro fastener. Power to each pixel is transmitted across the Velcro fibres and each SmartPixel [tm] takes the power it needs. There’s no cabling either. All the signals are sent via a microwave transmitter and tiny receivers in each pixel. Using scaled down satellite technology and nano GPS receivers each pixel literally knows its precise location in the screen. The whole picture information is broadcast into the theatre and each pixel only processes that part of the picture that it has to deal with. It solves many problems. Looking back we wondered why didn’t we think of that before! Although most of this is only possible due to the recent advances in technology.
Bl: This is truly revolutionary. What stage are you at?
MH: We’re still in the proof of concept and early development stage. We are currently building scale models to test the integration of all the components. At the moment we’re closer to the mini-scale rather than the nano scale.
Bl: What does that mean?
MH: Each pixel is about 33cm (1 foot) across at present
Bl: Quite big then!
MH: Yes but once we have all the integration, heat, communication and performance issues nailed, all we have to do is make it smaller!
Bl: Are you sure it’s that simple? How many pixels can you link together?
MH: For large displays we expect to build 100 million pixel arrays. At that resolution the image quality will be amazing, the sound should be impressive too!
Bl: And what about cost?
MH: At this prototype stage each pixel is a little costly. We have the OLED pixel itself, then the processor, communications, GPS, sound transducer, power management and of course the fire suppressant system. But we expect the cost to scale down as we go towards miniaturisation.
MH: We’re targeting the installed price per pixels to start at around $10 but we expect that to drop quite quickly to $1 per pixel – quite amazing considering the technology involved
Bl: Still a little pricey though?
MH: Price is relative
Bl: So when can we expect to see the first working system?
MH: We, err, haven’t set a launch date yet.
Previously on Blooloop, April 1st:
Binge Britain: the Theme Park Ride
Ambitious plans for $2 Billion Lunar Waterpark set to lift off
Fulldome: Global Immersion's Martin Howe talks about the Morrison Planetarium at the new California Academy of Sciences
Fulldome : Across the Universe
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