Laser in Fujitsu smartglasses fires images right into retina

Fujitsu has developed smartglasses that project imagery directly onto the user’s retina with a laser, instead of using small LCD screens like other wearables.

The prototype, being shown off at a Fujitsu technology expo in Tokyo this week, can be linked to a mobile device or a camera mounted on the glasses.

When linked to a smartphone, for instance, users can see webpages or other online information right on their retina. When linked to the camera, they can see what’s directly in front of them.

The camera feed, from a small image sensor in the middle of the glasses, can be useful for people with vision loss, blurry vision, or other vision defects. While the glasses are being developed as a vision aid, the technology could open up new approaches to connected eyewear.

A laser projector is embedded in the left arm of the glasses and shines harmless RGB laser light onto two small angled mirrors. The light then traverses the eye lens and hits the retina. There is no need to focus the image.

In a demo of the glasses at the tech expo, the experience was a bit like trying Google Glass, with a rectangle of projected images of flowers appearing in the left eye. If the glasses and mirrors aren’t positioned properly, however, the images can be hard to see. The glasses are also rather bulky but there are plans to refine the design.

The basic idea of projecting imagery onto a retina via laser has been around for decades, but miniaturizing the optics to realize a wearable form factor had been difficult until recently. Fujitsu and partner companies were able to produce a small mirror to project light into the eye.

“By using these glasses, people with low vision will be able to read books, newspapers, bulletin boards, timetables and walk around outside,” said Mitsuru Sugawara, CEO of QD Laser, a Fujitsu spinoff based in Kawasaki that helped develop the glasses.

The glasses are wired to a control box about the size of a telephone directory, but the box will be shrunk to the size of a smartphone in the coming months, and the glasses will be made wireless in about three years, Sugawara said.

QD Laser plans to commercialize the glasses by March 2016, priced around US$2,000. They will be initially be targeted at users with poor vision, and made available in Japan, Europe and the U.S.