An Austrian research team has developed a new way of capturing images based on a flat, flexible, transparent, and potentially disposable polymer sheet. The new imager, which resembles a flexible plastic film, uses fluorescent particles to capture incoming light and channel a portion of it to an array of sensors framing the sheet.
With no electronics or internal components, the imager’s design makes it ideal for a new breed of imaging technologies, including user interface devices that can respond not to a touch, but merely to a simple gesture.
The sensor is based on a polymer film known as a luminescent concentrator (LC), which is suffused with tiny fluorescent particles that absorb a very specific wavelength (blue light, for example) and then reemit it at a longer wavelength (green light, for example). Some of the reemitted fluorescent light is scattered out of the imager, but a portion of it travels throughout the interior of the film to the outer edges, where arrays of optical sensors (similar to 1-D pinhole cameras) capture the light. A computer then combines the signals to create a gray-scale image.
The main application the researchers envision for this new technology is in touch-free, transparent user interfaces that could seamlessly overlay a television or other display technology. This would give computer operators or video-game players full gesture control without the need for cameras or other external motion-tracking devices. The polymer sheet could also be wrapped around objects to provide them with sensor capabilities. Since the material is transparent, it is also possible to use multiple layers that each fluoresce at different wavelengths to capture color images.
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