I have to admit, I ignore most newsletters that get past my inbox spam filter – but today’s InAVate digital magazine email blast caught my eye. The magazine is known for its coverage of AV products, but it also covers the more innovative side of visual computing. Today’s cover story is about the work at MIT to bring physical pixels to life.

Pinscreen2A physical pixel is really a “Dynamic Shape Display” that is composed of a set of pixels that take on color (via projection) and depth through physical displacement. Most of us have seen a pinscreen toy that is made up of an array of sliding pins. When you press your hand in it, a 3D depth map of your hand is imaged on the other side. Now envision being able to encode depth in real time from CAD models, real time depth estimation from remote cameras and then program an array of these pins to displace. Illuminate each “pin” with a projector that is aligned to the array and – presto – you’ve got physical pixels.

The MIT guys, being true to form, not only are contributing to the fundamentals of the technology in an academic sense, but they are allowing themselves to dream about potential applications. Take a look at the video to see hints at new forms of telepresence, desks that can actuate, and other exciting potential applications.

The work has its roots in other fields (i.e. – dynamic shader lamps from University of North Carolina, and Takeo Kanade’s dream of virtualized reality that was a major effort at Carnegie-Mellon, but I haven’t seen it so elegantly put together into an actual working prototype unit now.

What do you think: are we looking at a “display” that will be a game changer or another interesting but non-commercializable research path?

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About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

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