Chad Dyner >> Interactive floating display
Chad Dyner quit his job at one of the world's most famous architecture firms because he wanted to do something different. He wanted to become an inventor.
In 2000, Dyner left the Los Angeles firm of Gehry Partners to spend time tinkering in the two-bedroom apartment that he shared with a roommate in Hermosa Beach, California.
Dyner wanted to transform thin air into a movie screen--a full-color display. And he wanted users to be able to use their hands to manipulate the images, the way Tom Cruise did in the film Minority Report. "I wanted to come up with a system that would allow for collaboration," Dyner says. "It would give designers and architects a way to manipulate data and discuss a project together."
Dyner bought a digital projector--the same kind used to display PowerPoint presentations--and took it apart. Inside was a micromirror system, a single chip that relies on a million tiny mirrors that tilt back and forth to create images. Dyner spent "seven days a week, 18 hours a day" trying to figure out "how to make the light stop in free space" using the micromirror system.
The key lay in using a fan to create a sheet of air that would reflect light projected at a given angle by the micromirror system. Dyner won't be too specific since his patents haven't yet been issued. But his first prototype made images from a computer hover in midair, something like a two-dimensional hologram. The nifty part: Sensors built into the box can tell when a user's hand (or an object used as a pointer) "touches" the image, allowing a finger to serve as a mouse.
Dyner formed IO2 Technology to develop his invention, dubbed the Heliodisplay. "What people respond to is that [the Heliodisplay] allows for digital information to coexist spatially with the real world," Dyner says. "You can imagine it being used as a heads-up display for doctors doing surgery, for videoconferencing, or for commanding a submarine." Not to mention video games. After seeing a demo of the Heliodisplay, a member of Disney's Imagineering group had one question: "How many can you build by May?"
IO2 is considering licensing the technology to other display manufacturers but may build the product itself. The price, at least initially, will be about the same as a plasma-screen TV--several thousand dollars.
Meanwhile, a team of contractors is working on producing a prototype capable of creating a 42-inch image. "I like the idea that an image can now be anywhere--it doesn't have to be confined in a box or stuck on a screen," he says. And Dyner is already onto something that could be another big idea. Now at MIT's Media Lab, the inventor is working to develop an intelligent material--call it "digital clay"--that can change form, texture, and color in response to user input.