NASA Spinoff

Tiny Devices Project Sharp, Colorful Images Consumer, Home, and Recreation

Product Outcome

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Displaytech uses its FLCOS technology to apply active matrix displays (individual switching elements) to a tiny silicon chip, with a final product smaller than a thumbnail. These silicon chips are essentially encased in a glass window, Handschy says. “There’s this thin layer of fast-switching liquid crystal material which allows that circuitry to drive reflective pixels on the surface of the chip.” The company’s first microdisplay panels were used in electronic viewfinders in camcorders and digital still cameras. Since 1990, Displaytech has shipped over 20 million microdisplays to some of the world’s largest consumer electronics companies, including JVC America, the Eastman Kodak Company, Olympus Corporation, Hitachi Ltd., Konica Minolta Holdings Inc., Kyocera Communications Inc., and the Hewlett-Packard Company.

Handschy says the company’s LightView products, “which all have NASA heritage,” are now being used in a new product: pocket projectors, or “pico” projectors. (A pico is a metric unit smaller than a nano.) Until recently, images and videos displayed on media players and cell phones were constrained by tiny, hard-to-see screens, making it difficult to share images, such as for a business presentation.

Currently, these pico projectors are sold as separate “accessory projectors” for existing hand-held devices, and attach via a universal serial bus cable. (Future media players and cellular phones will incorporate the pico projectors in their design and will not need any attachments for projection.) In these tiny devices, high-brightness LEDs shine through the microdisplays, magnifying the tiny images into large, colorful, sharp images 50 inches across, projected onto walls or screens large enough for groups of people to view together.

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Handschy says the microdisplays are the company’s most popular products, whether for camera viewfinders or the new projectors. Currently, camcorders and digital cameras comprise the main market for Displaytech’s microdisplays, but pico projectors are soon expected to dominate the company’s sales.

“We hope to sell a lot more in the new market of pico projectors,” Handschy says. Displaytech customer 3M currently incorporates the microdisplay in its Micro Professional Projector, an accessory projector that weighs only 5.6 ounces and is sold in major office suppliers and electronics retailers. Displaytech believes sales of pico projectors may exceed $1.1 billion within 5 years. Today, the company’s research and development is funded primarily from product revenue, but Handschy says Displaytech is still open to more contracts or collaborations with NASA.

In May 2009, Displaytech and Micron Technology Inc. announced Micron’s acquisition of Displaytech to broaden its semiconductor offerings, including products for pico projectors.

Displaytech® is a registered trademark of Micron Technology Inc.
LightView™ is a trademark of Micron Technology Inc.