3D display technology is no headache, claim researchers

A new 3D display technology that promises to stop users getting headaches could also help doctors carry out surgery.

Researchers at the universities of Durham and California, Berkeley, have developed a glasses-free screen that displays images with different focus depending on where in the scene you look.

They claim it eliminates the negative effects of traditional 3D, which can cause headaches and sickness in some users.

But the technology could also help doctors carrying out endoscopic procedures that use a video camera inside the body, such as keyhole surgery, by displaying images that provide a better sense of depth than 2D video.

‘Most 3D displays work by presenting each eye with a slightly different image but everything is presented in focus so there’s a mismatch in the information your brain is getting in how things are focused,’ Durham’s Dr Gordon Love told The Engineer.

‘We think that mismatch is a potential cause of problems ranging from mild discomfort up to people feeling nauseous.’

To counter this effect, the researchers built a screen with a switchable lens that rapidly alternates between two images, one focused on the foreground and one on the background.

The out-of-focus part of the picture then appears blurred, as with real vision. ‘Everything happens as it should in the real world, so when you look at things far away they will be in focus and things near to you will be out of focus [and vice versa],’ said Love.

‘You look for that particular part of the image and your eye will automatically bring it into focus.’

Love believes this technology could enable doctors to carry out endoscopic procedures more accurately because they would be able to see more clearly exactly where their instruments are in relation to body tissue.

‘The light is behaving like it does in the real world and that’s even more important when you’re looking inside a body, which is a relatively unfamiliar scene even for a surgeon,’ he said.

Love and his research partner Marty Banks of Berkeley have built a prototype display over three years using a $400,000 (£247,893) grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The prototype can only be watched by a single viewer at a specific angle to the screen, so the next step is to develop a version that can be viewed by multiple users.