ZEISS Showcases Multifunctional Smart Glass Technology

The optics and optoelectronics giant ZEISS has launched its Multifunctional Smart Glass technology showcasing the equipment and processes for mass production.

The technology permits the optical activation of transparent media combining four basic functions: projection, detection, illumination, and filtering, to open up new holographic possibilities, from smart home solutions through to augmented reality head-up displays (AR HUDs). ESA and NASA space missions have carried ZEISS’ technology on board for many years. It is also well established in the semiconductor and medical technology sectors.

At the heart of the ZEISS technology is a thin, transparent layer to which ultra- high-precision optics are attached in the smallest of spaces, characterised by transparency of over 92% combined with maximum clarity. This makes it possible for holographic technology to be used in applications where limitations of installation space, weight and costs previously stood in the way. The holographic functionality can turn any glass surface (windows of buildings, transparent screens, side windows of vehicles) into an on-demand screen for communications.

According to ZEISS, the fully automated duplication of a master hologram in large quantities is now possible for the first time. Commenting on the development, Roman Kleindienst, Vice President ZEISS Microoptics said: ‘this technological milestone for holography can be compared to what the invention of letterpress printing meant for writing. That’s why we call it the ‘Gutenberg moment’ for holography’.

AR HUDs have many advantages in cars. Drivers obtain all the input they need without taking their eyes off the road, with the selected information displayed within their field of vision.

The holographic content also permits more design, branding, guidance, and information functions. Side and rear windows can be used for eye-catching Car2X communications. It is also possible to black out window glass or make projected text and images visible only from the inside or outside. Video content is also supported. According to the company, with the 3D imaging, the technology opens up new levels of design freedom for light signatures.

One example is the floating switches in vehicle cockpits or smart homes. These are holographic, 3D human-machine interfaces based on ZEISS’ unique transparent layer. They allow 3D control elements to be displayed on demand as light projections in the form of switches or controls on clean black-panel surfaces, activated by voice or gesture control only when needed. This gives a clean, contemporary look to vehicle interiors or the controls of smart household appliances.

The technology also permits the integration of a transparent camera – a ‘holocam’ – that uses coupling, decoupling, and light guiding elements to divert incident light to a concealed sensor. This eliminates the need for exterior and interior cut-outs or installation space, in visible areas, for cameras or sensors to follow distance alerts or parking sensors, or for fatigue detection systems.

The holocam can also be used in entertainment electronics products such as screens and displays that have integrated cameras. Placing the holocam at the centre of the screen will allow participants in videoconferences to make eye contact. The transparency of the holographic layer has only a minimal effect on the brilliance of the image reproduction.

It is also possible to detect spectral components as additional information to complement the visible image. The resulting data provide insights into environmental contamination such as air pollution and UV exposure.

Other applications can be found especially in the smart home. Innovative interior lighting can be realised through special holographic decoupling elements in exterior glass that is almost indistinguishable from natural light. Windowpanes can be illuminated evenly over wide areas – with adjustable lighting moods to complement existing smart home solutions.

Glass surfaces can also generate energy. The micro-optical layer in the window pane absorbs incident sunlight and transmits it in concentrated form to a solar cell. This combines the advantages of conventional windows – natural light and an unrestricted view – with the additional benefit of efficient energy production.

As a result, says ZEISS, the technology will make surfaces available for power generation in the future that could not previously serve that purpose. These include office building facades and windows of high-rise apartment buildings and other residential housing, creating new opportunities to capture energy anywhere where glass panels are used.

As a system provider, ZEISS does not offer components manufacturing. Instead, it will provide the industrial-scale replication of holograms in the form of a transparent layer to manufacturers or suppliers who are looking to enhance their products and provide them with new functions.

The company offers an entire ecosystem: from the first step through to the finished hardware, along with advisory services and design support.

Holographic AR HUD based on ZEISS Multifunctional Smart Glass technology.

Window Pane Integrating ZEISS Multifunctional Smart Glass Technology.