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Funai Electric Co Ltd and Nippon Signal Co Ltd developed an ultra-small color laser projector that can not only project an image but also recognize finger movements on the image.

Users can rotate, enlarge and replace a projected image by moving a finger on it. Therefore, the new projector can add a function of touch sensitive display to the front surface of a refrigerator, a whiteboard and a wall in a room at low cost.

The companies plan to exhibit a prototype of the projector at CEATEC JAPAN 2009, which will take place from Oct 6 to 10, 2009, at Makuhari Messe in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.

Funai Electric developed the system of the projector by using Nippon Signal's MEMS scanner and made the prototype. RGB laser light is scanned by a two-axis MEMS mirror to project a color image. The principle of the technology is the same as that of existing projectors, but the new projector has the function to determine the position of a finger.

To realize this function, a sensor that recognizes the intensity of light is placed near the projection screen. When a projected image is touched by a finger, part of the laser light is cut off. Then, the sensor detects a change in light intensity.

Because the laser light is rapidly scanned by the MEMS mirror, it is possible to determine the position of a finger from the time for which the laser light has been cut off. Also, depending on the location of the sensor, a finger moving in mid air can be recognized. According to the companies, the new projector can easily realize the hand-controlled user interface depicted in the movie titled "Minority Report."

With those functions, the new projector can project touch-sensitive images in many places. For example, it is possible to project such an image on the front surface of a refrigerator or a microwave oven at a cost lower than that of a large touch-sensitive color display. In an office, a whiteboard may function as a touch panel.

Though the projector is still a prototype, Funai Electric considers that it might be commercialized as early as within 2010. The company expects that the projector will be used for applications where touch panels cannot be used because of their high cost.

動画 Funai's new projector (0:34)
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