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Cutting Edge Technologies: Development of the Eye-Trek as a Single-Eye Ultimate Wearable Instrument -- Olympus Optical Co., Ltd

A Proposal from Opto-Technology

Development of the Monocular Eye-Trek as a Ultimate Wearable Instrument


Since when has the word "wearable" been popular? The concept has been taking shape in such products as wristwatch-sized computers, high-capacity hard discs and optical discs, products that have attracted large markets.

At first, when wearable instruments first appeared, the market welcomed their novelty even though actually using them was inconvenient. However, the market now requires functions beyond those of mere data assistance, and it requires truly wearable instruments.

Especially in the region of PCs, where two conflicting themes--high performance and miniaturization--should be pursued, the needs for truly wearable instruments have become higher. The requirements for wearable devices are about to exceed the limits of human physiology in areas such as sight and handling.

Of course, equipment manufacturers have been trying to find solutions for such requests. They are going to cope with such needs for wearable instruments especially by making a kind of headset-sized PC, a pointing controller that can be operated in one hand and a very small, very light face-mounted display (FMD) with high resolution.

Nature Interface interviewed Olympus Optical Co., Ltd., which has developed an FMD--a key technology in wearable PCs--and promoted the development of an FMD with its original technology called opto-electronics.

Collaboration in Development of a Monocular FMD for a Wearable PC with IBM Japan Co., Ltd.

The biggest difficulty in the evolution of wearable PCs has been the lack of a means to transcend the limits of human physiology. When we are requested merely to miniaturize a display, we can technically make it as small as a fingertip. But how would a person actually view images on such a tiny display? And how would we control or adjust the device? These tasks are beyond the limits of human physiology.

All these problems are solved if we use an FMD as a normal PC display. It is not too much to say that the wearable PCs on which Olympus and IBM Japan have collaborated originated from the idea that an FMD should be crucial to a display.

Olympus started the research on the FMD to develop the small but powerful "Eye-Trek" series, which has already been released for the public and appreciated.

Eye-Trek has a range of merits. When we wear an Eye-Trek as if it were a pair of sunglasses, we can watch images on a 16:9 wide screen that appears to us as if it were a 62-inch TV monitor placed 2m in front of us. We can enjoy 3D acoustics through the Eye-Trek's inner speakers. We can, of course, use it outside or while moving around. Moreover, we can connect an Eye-Trek directly to PlayStation(R)2 of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc., one of the most popular consoles in Japan. (Note: "PlayStation" is a registered trademark of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc.)

The Eye-Trek series, with plenty of established merits, has been highly regarded not only in the field of optical technology but also in electronic technology, because this series combined the world's lightest PC with clear images (using a free-shaped prism and a high performance optical filter).

The Eye-Trek series was created by the convergence of the optical technology that Olympus has developed as a maker of optical instruments and forefront electronics technology.

Olympus's Original Optical Technology Gives Eye-Trek its Light Weight and its Clear Images.

When we wear an Eye-Trek as if it were sunglasses, we can watch powerful movies on a large screen in front of us. When we use an Eye-Trek as a PC monitor, it provides clear images. Needless to say, most of the technologies that the Eye-Trek features are unique to Olympus, which has established its own basic and advanced technology in the field of opto-electronics. The main technologies among them are a free-shaped prism and a high performance optical filter.

*Free-Shaped Prism

Two main types of optics have been used to make HMDs. One is a combination of convex lenses, as found in cameras, and the other is the combination of a concave mirror and a half mirror.

However, when these optics are used, there are critical limits to miniaturization and weight reduction. Great progress in optics was necessary in order to make it possible to alternate an HMD, which is worn like a hat, to an FMD, which is worn like sunglasses.

Olympus has applied two established technologies--"eccentric optics" and "free curvature optical system"--to develop an FMD. Olympus has succeeded in producing the world's first FMD in which the eccentric and free curvature optical system is applied using a free-shaped prism. With this new technology, the display is four times as bright as that of concave mirror optics. Moreover, clear images with less distortion were realized even though weight was greatly reduced.

* High Performance Optical Filter

In an FMD or HMD, either of which creates a large screen from a picture on a minute liquid crystal panel, each pixel in the liquid crystal panel is expanded as a dot, so the image appearing on the screen is not very clear.

An optical filter "depixelizes" the image, that is, hides pixels, and consequently makes smooth images. This technology is as crucial to an FMD as the free-shaped prism is. Olympus has applied its optical technology to the development of a high-performance optical filter that can provide smooth and clear images. Thanks to this development, we can enjoy lively and powerful images.

Other various technologies of Olympus's are condensed in an Eye-Trek as well: pursuing miniaturization and weight reduction, (85g for the FMD-200, the lightest FMD in the world), high-quality images (Optical Super Resolution: OSR), and interface with other devices including PCs, DVDs and game instruments.

Promoting Further Evolution of the Eye-Trek as a Key Technology of Wearable PCs

Finally, we introduce to you some of the merits of the "PC Eye-Trek" as an ultimately small display.

*The display corresponds to SVGA (800_600) colors. Images appear to be as large as they would on a notebook PC monitor (10-inch display), and yet the image is only 50cm from the eye.

*Thanks to the "free-shaped prism," to which the eccentric and free curvature optical system is applied, the performance of a very small and precise LCD panel (SVGA panel, 12mm diagonal) with 480,000 dots is fully optimized, and clear images--with no distortion even on the edges--are achieved.

*The viewer weighs about 100g. This means that the Eye-Trek is lighter than any other monocular HMD or FMD in the world.

*New optics, as well as the free-shaped prism, are developed, and a see-through function is realized. With this function, we can watch a PC monitor while seeing outside of the Eye-Trek.

*The user can change the position of the viewer to either eye, so that the dominant eye can view the images. In addition, the display has a function to flip images upside down.

*Eye-Trek uses a reflection-type LCD, which consumes less power than other LCDs and therefore allows for longer periods of mobile use.

*The images are displayed in a position that's comfortable for each individual user, thanks to a high-flexibility headband, rotary frame and movable viewer. Moreover, the long eye relief function enables you to use the Eye-Trek while wearing eyeglasses.

As mentioned above, Olympus is sure that a monocular FMD for PC use is a key to improving wearable instruments. Olympus is working toward a next-generation Eye-Trek with all-purpose interfaces.

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