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Transparent HUD now possible, thanks to MIT researchers

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Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created a transparent display that moves the world of technology a step closer to seeing heads-up displays that are affordable, easy to manufacture, and with wide viewing angles.

While there have been many attempts to produce an excellent HUD system, most of these make use of approaches that also limit its use. For example, there are systems that project images onto one's eyes using a beam splitter or mirror to make them float in air but one must be in the right position to see them. Another option is very expensive and hard to make using LEDs that are integrated with the glass display.

The team from MIT created the breakthrough transparent display making use of nano-particles and a thin polymer matrix or inexpensive plastic. The proponents embedded the nano-particles into the display and fined-tuned them to display just one color while letting other light beams pass, making the glass look transparent. The material is applied on the glass the same way tint films are set on car windows.

"The glass will look almost perfectly transparent because most light is not of that precise wavelength," said MIT professor Marin Soljačić, who co-authored the study with six others.

Soljačić also pointed out that they did not optimize the materials they used but was still able to come up with the amazing result. This means that the system can still be improved to work better.

The team demonstrated the concept using silver nano-particles that can produce blue images but according to the proponents, a full-color HUD system using the said materials is very much possible.

Imagining its practical application, the transparent HUD can be used to feed data to drivers while on the road. It can also be used on store windows to give consumers information about products on display, by pilots, and maybe on wearable gadgets.

"This is a very clever idea using the spectrally selective scattering properties of nano-particles to create a transparent display. I think it is a beautiful demonstration," said Stanford University electrical engineering professor Shanhui Fan, who was not involved in the study.

The findings of the team is described fully in a paper titled "Transparent displays enabled by resonant nanoparticle scattering" that appears on Nature Communications.

While the transparent HUD is still a work in progress, the proof that it can be done is enough to make Tony-Starks-wannabes really excited.

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