New 3D Display Uses Bubbles to Project Images

The new 3D display is a proof of concept, using laser-generated bubbles to create 3D images visible from all angles. (Image credit: Kota Kumagai/YouTube)

Fluorescent bubbles inside a liquid display could be the next big thing in 3D technology, allowing viewers to walk around the "screen" without using any special glasses, scientists say.

Technology for 3D images has relied on glasses or headsets for users to experience the dimensions of an image rendered on a flat surface. Now, however, a team of researchers has published a proof of concept for a display that projects 3D images in a way that makes them visible from all angles and, as such, does not require the eye accessories.

The team's new technique uses lasers to create bubbles in a thick liquid. Then, the bubbles are illuminated using a lamp. These colorful bubbles act as voxels (3D pixels), creating three-dimensional images in the fluid "screen," which itself is three-dimensional, or volumetric. [Video: 3D Fog Displays Could Be Screens of the Future]

The researchers say their volumetric bubble display allows for 3D images to be truly three-dimensional. 

"Our bubble graphics have a wide viewing angle and can be refreshed and colored," first author Kota Kumagai, of the Center for Optical Research and Education at Utsunomiya University in Japan, said in a statement. "Although our first volumetric graphics are on the scale of millimeters, we achieved the first step toward an updatable full-color volumetric display."

With fluorescent liquid acting as the screen, the bubble voxels are created through "multiphoton absorption." This phenomenon occurs when photons (light particles) from a laser are absorbed at the point where the laser's light is focused, the researchers explained. Therefore, the microbubbles are created in precise locations in the liquid screen, which is thick enough to keep the bubbles in place. Once the bubbles are formed, the graphics can be projected onto them. Since the bubbles are three-dimensional, the images projected are 3D as well and can be viewed from all angles, according to the researchers.

So far, the researchers have produced only monochromatic images, using an external light source, such as an LED lamp, to color the bubbles. However, the researchers said a projector could be used to illuminate the bubble graphics in different colors.

Although the technology is still a proof of concept, the researchers envision the displays being used for art or museum exhibits. In addition, doctors could use the displays in hospitals to better visualize a patient's anatomy, or the military could use the displays to gain insight into a mission's terrain.

"The volumetric bubble display is most suited for public facilities, such as a museum or an aquarium, because currently, the system setup is big and expensive," Kumagai said in the statement. "However, in the future, we hope to improve the size and cost of the laser source and optical devices to create a smaller system that might be affordable for personal use."

The details of the team's research on 3D imaging and the volumetric bubble display were published online Feb. 23 in the journal Optica.

Original article on Live Science.

Kacey Deamer
Staff Writer
Kacey Deamer is a journalist for Live Science, covering planet earth and innovation. She has previously reported for Mother Jones, the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press, Neon Tommy and more. After completing her undergraduate degree in journalism and environmental studies at Ithaca College, Kacey pursued her master's in Specialized Journalism: Climate Change at USC Annenberg. Follow Kacey on Twitter.