Touching the future: New LED technology brings 3D shapes to life

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A team of South Korean researchers has created a groundbreaking technology that lets people feel 3D shapes and textures using a special display.

This new development has caught global attention because of its wide range of potential uses, including helping the visually impaired, enhancing vehicle interfaces, creating immersive experiences in the metaverse, and offering new educational tools.

The Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) in South Korea announced their innovative display technology, which uses a photo-thermal elastic variable film.

This technology was featured in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

Here’s how it works: The display uses infrared light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to control the height and softness of tiny tactile elements on a smooth film surface. By adjusting the intensity of the light, the LEDs can create 3D shapes and textures that users can actually feel.

The secret lies in the film’s structure, which is made up of two very thin layers. The bottom layer absorbs light and turns it into heat.

The top layer, which feels hard at room temperature, becomes soft when heated to about 50 degrees Celsius. When the top layer is soft, air pressure can push it up to form different shapes.

These 3D shapes can be as high as 1.4mm, about twice the height of traditional braille displays, and can be adjusted in small steps of 0.1mm. This allows for very precise control over the shapes and textures created.

What’s impressive is that once the light is turned off, the top layer cools and hardens again, making the shapes durable to touch without using more power.

The ETRI team worked on creating 3D elements using materials that respond to light and a model for sensing 3D shapes. Inwook Hwang, the lead author of the study and principal researcher at ETRI, said, “Old braille displays could only show simple shapes with fixed heights. Our new technology lets each cell change height and softness, creating realistic 3D textures.”

Sungryul Yun, director of the Tangible Interface Creative Research Section at ETRI, added, “This breakthrough takes tactile display technology to the next level.

We plan to use larger light sources and tiling techniques to make big 3D displays, improve the detail of each cell, and save energy.”

This new technology has the potential to revolutionize how we interact with the world, making advanced 3D information delivery possible for the visually impaired, creating adaptable vehicle interfaces, enabling tactile communication, and providing realistic educational models. With this innovation, the future of touch is becoming a reality.

Source: KSR.