IMAGINE a touch screen on which the elements of the image displayed can be moved around with a fingertip. Now imagine the same scene without the screen: the image can still be moved with a fingertip, but it floats unsupported above a quietly whirring gray box that is connected to a laptop computer.
That describes what took place here when the prototype of a new device called the Heliodisplay was shown publicly for the first time.
The Heliodisplay is an interactive technology that projects into the air above the machine still or moving images that can be manipulated with a fingertip. The images are two-dimensional, and they are not holograms. The Heliodisplay’s inventor, Chad Dyner, says the technology could one day replace conventional cathode-ray tubes, liquid crystal displays and plasma screens.
IO2 Technology, a company he founded, has completed a working prototype of the device, named after Helios, the Greek god of the sun. Mr. Dyner said he was seeking patents for the technology behind it and would not say much about how it works.
Mr. Dyner, a 29-year-old graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did not attend the demonstration in Lake Forest on Dec. 5 and said he could reveal little about the device.
“All I can say is that it’s a very simple system, using conventional air,” he said by telephone from Cambridge, Mass. “Essentially, the device converts the imaging properties of the air so that the air is taken in, converted instantaneously, and then re-ejected out. Then we’re projecting onto that converted air.”
Pressed for more detail on the nature of the conversion, Mr. Dyner referred to it electronic and as thermodynamic. After air is drawn into the machine, he said, it “moves through a dozen metal plates and then comes out again.” No moving parts are involved, he added.
He said the device works by creating a cloud of microscopic particles that make the air “image-friendly.” The machine, he asserted, uses no harmful gases or liquids, but he would not say whether it uses water. “The ambient air is bottom-projected and illuminated, generating the free-space image that floats in midair,” he said. At the demonstration, there was no odor in the air, and the area onto which the images were projected seemed dry to the touch.
OK, pundits are saying there isn’t a market for this, but I’d love to have a very large projected display in a room in my house, devoted to all things cyberspace. Being able see detailed data and even move it around on screen would be useful, amazing and highly compelling. Reminds me exactly of the displays as they were used in the conference room on Le Femme Nikita.