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It's no secret that the mobile phone is the center of the universe when it comes to consumer electronic devices. Standalone devices such as handheld gaming systems and personal media players will either transform into mobile phones, or have their feature sets incorporated into mobile phones. (It's interesting to note that Nokia is the number 1 seller of digital cameras worldwide.) Pocketable devices with limited or no connectivity are, in my view, rapidly approaching obsolescence.

And mobile phones are expected to continue to incorporate more and more new feature sets and capabilities, better software, bigger screens, and to get thinner and sleeker and stay pocketable.

We all understand the basic premise of the visualization bottleneck -- the mobile phone's processing power, storage capacity and available bandwidth can support really rich multimedia services; but due to the constraints of the 2" LCD screen, real world consideration of design and the ultimate concern with usability, options are limited as to how to deliver a valuable user experience for all that content. The screens as we know them are just too small -- and they can't really get bigger or else the devices grow, lose their design appeal and their place in your pocket.

Microvision is developing two distinct platform technologies, both based on the Integrated Photonics Module, to resolve the visualization bottleneck once and for all; Color Eyewear and PicoP. PicoP is designed for sharing and displaying TV, photos, games, movies and presentations; it enables a shared experience of these kinds of media content by projecting it in brilliant laser color onto walls, ceilings, a sheet of paper or any available surface. We are targeting a form-factor so small and thin that this big-screen projector experience can be embedded into the sleekest cell phones.

Color Eyewear can be considered a highly complementary application to PicoP. Color Eyewear is designed to enable personal viewing experiences rather than shared ones. It is intended to let people engage with the world in a way that they couldn't before, and to give people capabilities and capacities that they wouldn't have without it. The idea is, that information services are becoming pervasive. We need a new way to interact with these services that enhances our mobility and doesn't interrupt it.

I'm interested in 'passive' entertainment as much as anybody (and my cable bill will attest to that!) but that is only part of what fascinates me when it comes to our Color Eyewear platform. What really excites me is the idea of enabling new user-centric experiences. We can envision consumer augmented reality services (AR services) pretty clearly -- based on the user's location and the context of their activity, relevant information is displayed that shows the directions to their destination; the wait time and review scores at nearby restaurants; the 'buddy beacon' that shows where nearby friends are; tourism information that brings the history of places and buildings to life by making it accessible to everyone who's there; advanced mobile commerce services that let you access special offers and discounts for products in your vicinity; real-time mobile blogging that lets you stream videos and pictures of your everyday life as-it-happens to an online site for your friends to share and comment on...the list of potential value-added services is limitless. It includes anything you can conceive of that's enabled by the integration of the internet with locations, objects and people.

And it's not just my imagination, folks. These services are already either deployed or in development at companies and universities around the world. And here, in the world of AR services, the visualization bottleneck isn't really a bottleneck, but a brick wall. I recently blogged an article about Nokia and Stanford's recent collaboration towards the development of augmented reality services -- another article on the same topic is accompanied by a couple of pictures that show a handheld mobile phone screen with a picture of the user's environment, overlayed with augmented reality information (i.e., a metadata layer).

Now think about this with me: you have all the richness and bandwidth and processing power of the human visual system already available to you in order to see the ambient environment that you live in, every second of every day. Now we take all that richness, resolution, color fidelity, the peripheral view, and we shrink it back down to the 2" mobile phone screen that we acknowledge is not adequate even to display video clips! In addition to losing the fidelity of your visual system, you also lose your sense of context -- since you are looking down at your handset, the information isn't really overlayed on the real world anymore -- it's overlayed on a tiny picture of the real world on your handset screen. You have to look down, you should probably stop walking (or at least slow down!), and you aren't really doing what you were doing anymore. Your activity has shifted from engaging in the real world to engaging with your mobile phone display. You then look up to take advantage of the information you referenced on your mobile screen, and repeat when new information is available or needed. This loss of context severely limits the usability of AR services. But this is as far as conventional fixed-pixel displays can take us.

Fortunately, there's a solution. It's clear that AR services will need not only a big-screen display, but a see-through, head-up display in order to be fully realized. A tremendous amount of really exciting work by key players around the world is being done to enable this application, both on the software side and on the device side. We recognize the world-changing potential of these kinds of services and believe that our Color Eyewear display platform, currently in development, will allow the creation of fashionable, lightweight and ergonomic see-through eyewear that tears down the brick wall of usability that's holding back AR services from coming to full fruition.

We recognize and understand the visualization bottleneck that's limiting the ability of the mobile industry to reach its full potential, both in terms of mobile multimedia and emerging applications such as AR services. We see the value that our scanned beam technology can bring to the mobility space, by delivering big, beautiful images in very tiny and thin, low-power packages. To deliver this value for customers, we are focused on leveraging our IPM platform technology into disruptive products like PicoP and Color Eyewear that elevate the mobile experience and enable new mobile markets.

5 comments:

At December 6, 2006 at 2:01 PM Anonymous said...

Ben,

Great to hear your own thoughts for a change. I completely agree on every point, this one really hits the nail on the head.

 
At December 6, 2006 at 2:34 PM Anonymous said...

Everyone is sold on the notion that projection is the next Big Thing in mobile communications/data display...the only question is whether Microvision will land a real contract that will let it take part in this revolution. There ARE other companies out there, that are nipping on MVIS's heels. After many years of visionary outlooks but a lack of market-ready products, it's time to -- as we say in Kentucky -- "Shit or get off the pot". I hope Mr. Tokman will have a wonderful bowel movement.

 
At December 7, 2006 at 7:22 AM seth said...

Will the PicoP have keystone correction features built in? (a projected image keystones when the projection surface is not perpendicular to the projector. One side, usually the top & bottom, will be larger than the other, distorting the image.)

It seems that since the PicoP uses a scanned beam, it could compensate for the tilt of the projector, relative to the 'screen', correcting the keystoning while maintaining a 'pure' image. (LCD/DLP projectors can correct the image digitally, but do so by compensating the image in software to be distorted in the opposite direction. The resulting image is basically rectangular, but information is lost since pixels are combined.

 
At December 9, 2006 at 1:21 PM Anonymous said...

A google search with the words "cellphone" and "projector" yields 1,200,000 results, about 200 of which relate to MVIS. What does MVIS have that the competition lacks?

 
At December 9, 2006 at 1:28 PM Ben said...

To answer this question, please read the prior post: Pocket Projectors from MIT Technology Review's article about our PicoP.

 

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