Powder Screen: A Virtual Materializer

A screen made of a pool filled with fine polystyrene beads that can completely hide real objects and seamlessly transform images of virtual objects into real objects and vice versa.

Enhanced Life
This new form of displaying images combined with other technologies is expected to be used in the near future by the entertainment industry. The Powder Screen not only enables materialization of virtual objects, but also adds new interactive features such as the ability to touch objects projected on the screen. Other elements and techniques, such as exposing the surface to controlled currents of air, create the visual sensation of flow or movement of sand, water, or any image that is displayed on the screen.

To transform the way we interact with and perceive virtual images. Real objects provide tangible, direct, intuitive interaction. Humans are able to perceive properties of materials that cannot be replicated by objects (in virtual reality systems). On the other hand, when we create, deform, or handle real objects in the real world, we face numerous restrictions. Virtual objects are free from these restrictions but lack real presence. With the Powder Screen, virtual and real objects can transition from one world to the other.

The most important innovation in this project is the use of powder beads as a screen. With this ultra-fine grain spread inside an open case the system can maintain image resolution. The size of the beads plays an important role in displaying images; the small diameter (around 0.5mm) strongly contributes to the high resolution of the screen, while the use of larger beads would cause surface bumps and blurry images.

To allow objects to move from the screen, the system incorporates an existing technology called the SPIDAR system, which allows the addition of force interaction. With the SPIDAR system, the object moves freely all along the screen and displays force interaction between user and object.

Other techniques, such as using fans to generate air currents on the surface of the screen add visual effects such as flow in the displayed image. Since the powder beads are very light, this movement effect provides a visually captivating feature.

Imagine a virtual object presented on a transparent 3D volume display that materializes when it is touched by the user. Then imagine the user being able to take the materialized object out of the display. This sounds like a science-fiction dream, but we may not be far from making it reality. This project moves it closer reality by seamlessly connecting virtual images to real objects.

The entertainment industry may use this technology to develop new applications for the screen. In games, movies, shows, and other form of entertainment, objects can emerge from the screen and be transformed into real objects. New forms of marketing and advertisement can also be developed using the Powder Screen. For example, TV ads could feature materialization of displayed claims in the real advertised product. When other technologies are combined with Powder Screen, we are not far from being able to grab products out of a screen while shopping on the net.

Imagine that you could throw a ball through your screen to another person in a different location, and the ball would emerge from that person's screen. Imagine yourself communicating with other people around the world not only by text, voice, or image, but also with a sense of being with those people and sharing objects with them. These are just some of this work's future implications.

Masayoshi Ohuchi
Tokyo Institute of Technology

Takafumi Aoki
Jiro Baba
Shoichi Hasegawa
Koichiro Kimura
Jun Noguchi
Makoto Sato
Hiromi Shimizu
Tokyo Institute of Technology

International Collegiate Virtual Reality Contest, The Virtual Reality Society of Japan