New display technology emerges to challenge plasmas, LCDs

Designers are readying a display technology based on optical micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) for portable military applications, says Robert Corrigan, vice president for marketing at Silicon Light Machines in Sunnyvale, Calif.

By John Rhea

Designers are readying a display technology based on optical micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) for portable military applications, says Robert Corrigan, vice president for marketing at Silicon Light Machines in Sunnyvale, Calif.

Company engineers are developing a MEMS-based reflective display technology called grating light valve (GLV), originally developed at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and Corrigan says the technology is now approaching the mass production stage.

The idea is to use basic semiconductor manufacturing methods to create what he calls "switchable pixels" that would produce maps, intelligence data, command and control, and other tactical displays for cockpit use, particularly for head-mounted displays.

Silicon Light Machines is in the third year of a three-year, $4.3 million development contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The work is under the direction of DARPA`s Electronics Technology Office.

Silicon Light Machines engineers took a big step toward bringing GLV out of the laboratory last fall with an agreement in which leaders of Evans & Sutherland in Salt Lake City invested $3.5 million into the privately held company.

Designers at Evans & Sutherland, a major simulator system manufacturer, are interested in large wall displays to compete with established displays such as cathode ray tubes, gas plasmas, and liquid crystal devices.

GLV is scaleable to this broad spectrum, Corrigan explains, because it is inherently digital and can be manufactured with conventional silicon-based processes. Silicon Light Machines engineers expect to use commercial foundries to fabricate the wafers.

Among the initial applications, Corrigan says he envisioned a battery-powered Global Positioning System receiver using a map database and providing a resolution of 1,000 pixels on a side. Another possibility he cites is GLV-based binoculars. This is a dual-use technology, he stresses, and should find commercial markets in parallel with military applications.

By using a bright light source such as a metal halide or xenon arc projection lamp, system designers can use GLV devices as the display engine for large projection systems.

At the other end are the low-power systems that military systems designers need. In-between, Silicon Light Machines officials are looking at such consumer applications as television sets, computer monitors, automotive displays, and instrumentation.

Additional information on GLV is available on the company`s World Wide Web site at http://www.siliconlight.com.

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