The next big thing? Pico projectors

November 5, 2007

by Mark Ollig

Remember in the late 1990s when those laser pointer pens were so popular?

My first experience seeing one was in a movie theater. Before the movie started, I looked up at the white projection screen and noticed this red dot dancing all over it. I looked behind me a few rows and saw this youngster with his laser pen in hand, pointing it towards the screen . . . uncontrollably laughing along with his friends.

Yes indeed, new technology has provided us with many forms of entertainment.

A reader recently e-mailed and asked what I thought “the next big thing” would be.

Here it is.

On July 24th of this year a company called Microvision, located in Redmond Wash., signed an agreement with Motorola July 24 to develop products for its new “PicoP” (pico projector) display engine technology.

PicoP could be described as a “miniature digital projection module” that is able to “beam” or project, large high-resolution digital images or video streams onto a screen, wall, or any nearby surface.

This technology uses an “ultra-miniature laser-based display engine.” This low-powered device is very small, which allows it to be “embedded” with many types of mobile media devices – including cell phones and laptop computers.

The Digital Light Processor (DLP) chip component uses microscopic mirrors and an intelligent light switching system. This chip displays images in grayscale and a color wheel applies filters to turn the images into full color. The DLP chips provide rich color and a high-resolution display.

PicoP technology uses Microvision’s “MEMS” scanner, which incorporates a 1 millimeter mirror that “paints” images pixel by pixel. A “spectrally pure” laser light delivers colors of red, green, and blue lasers. This connects into an optical chip that combines the laser light into a single focused beam. Lastly, there are integrated electronics to control the MEMS, modulate the laser light, and handle the video source connection.

With the embedded PicoP technology used in a mobile device like a cellphone or handheld media-player, a sales presentation at your business or a client’s location will be easy. There is no need to make connections from your computer to a projector, or finding a power outlet and setting up a viewing screen.

PicoP will also project information to vehicle overhead displays.

The Microvision web site has an image gallery showing the various situations where PicoP technology is used.

I find it amazing how these tiny laser-based projectors are able to provide the “big-screen” DVD viewing quality experience from devices like cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDA) and digital cameras.

PicoP will make it simple (and fun) to share with our family and friends those home movies, photographs and popular YouTube videos.

Alexander Tokman is Microvision’s president and CEO. He stated, “In our pursuit of high volume consumer and automotive applications, we are partnering with world-leading manufacturers to bring the PicoP, our ultra-miniature, low-power projection display technology to market.”

Rob Shaddock, chief technology officer for Motorola said, “Working together with Microvision, we are pursuing ways that projection technology can redefine how mobile consumers view and interact with the media they take with them.”

I was very fortunate to contact Matt Nichols, who is the director of communications for Microvision. He was able to answer a few of my questions about PicoP.

Ollig: “Which products will have the PicoP technology incorporated into them at first?”

Nichols: “We see an accessory projector (only about the size of an iPod) as the first consumer product that will contain the PicoP display engine.  An accessory projector would connect via a simple cable to the host device (mobile phone, iPod, laptop, digital camera, etc.) to project video and digital images.  Following the accessory projector, we expect to see OEMS [original equipment manufacturers] of handset devices designing the PicoP display engine directly into the host device; some of the types of applications are pictured here in our [web site] image gallery.”

Ollig: “Will support for Microsoft Power-Point presentations be available using PicoP?”

Nichols: “Yes, the PicoP is designed to accept both video and data input, so any application running on the host device will be projected through the PicoP display engine.”

Ollig: “Matt, when do you think we will see PicoP technology available in devices for individuals to purchase?” 

Nichols: “Our goal is to have the first PicoP-enabled projector in the market by the end of 2008.  It is important to note that PicoP is the enabling ultra-miniature projection technology (a display engine) that will be embedded into consumer electronics devices (mobile phones, laptops, PDA’s, gaming devices, etc.) to create a large, projected, full-color image. We sell the PicoP to OEMS to design into their consumer products. “

I hope you visit the Microvision web site, because this really is . . . “the next big thing.”