Of course, head-mounted displays (HMDs) aren’t particularly new–Star Trek, any number of other sci-fi films and the designers of the new helmet for F35 pilots (pictured) have pursued the idea to various extremes, and you can already buy versions for iPod movie viewing. But one issue that seems to often get overlooked is how to control a computer while you’re wearing an HMD.
That’s where the new interactive data glasses from the Fraunhofer Institute for Photonic Microsystems come in. The German scientists have been working to make HMDs interactive, rather than passive display systems–the innovation has been to build a set of glasses that tracks the wearer’s eye movements. By combining an eye tracking sensor and an OLED-based projection system onto a single CMOS chip, the 19-millimeter-by-17-millimeter product is now small enough to perch on the hinge of a set of modified glasses. From there it projects the display image directly onto the wearer’s retina and monitors the position of the user’s eyeball.
The team forsees it being most useful in situations where the users hands may be otherwise occupied–such as medical technicians, or service engineers who need to consult plans while fiddling with an installation. But since they’re promoting the tech as being small, ergonomic, energy-efficient, and potentially cheaper than existing HMDs, it’s possible they’ll find their way into consumer products for a whole host of purposes.