Social networking proves size does matter. The image you want to share with your friends on your smartphone isn?t big enough to enjoy. Scientists have taken a cue from the insect world to design a projector that makes those smartphone images big and crisp enough to make out details.

Image projection from Apple iPhone using a 3rd party device
Image projection from Apple iPhone using a 3rd party device

Enlarging a smartphone image by projecting it onto a table top is the goal of scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute
You will be able to cradle your cell phone on a table and project a large format display onto the table’s surface.

Surprisingly, even when the phone is tilted at an angle, the image does not appear distorted nor blurry on the horizontal surface of the table. Users will be able to swipe the table top image to zoom in exactly as they can on the phone?s screen. "The image is overlaid with infrared lines invisible to the user. If the user?s finger breaks one of these lines with a swipe motion, for instance, the sensor registers this and advances to the next image," explains Marcel Sieler a scientist at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering IOF in Jena, Germany where the projector is being developed.

Joseph von Fraunhofer demonstrated his spectroscope in 1814
Joseph von Fraunhofer demonstrated his spectroscope in 1814

The institute is named after Joseph von Fraunhofer (1787?1826), an optician who created a better way of polishing the surface of optical instruments, improved the method of manufacturing optical glass, worked with the colors of the spectrum and how they affect refraction. He invented the spectroscope that has been used in astronomy. His legacy continues in the research at the Fraunhofer IOF.

Scientists at the institute named for the optical genius used an idea found in the eye of the common fruit fly for their project. These eyes have a mesh-like appearance. Many insects have what are called compound eyes which consist of multitudes of tiny lens-capped optical units called ommatidia. It?s hard to imagine just how small these ommatidia are. For example, a dragonfly?s eye contains 30,000 ommatidia.

This peculiar configuration has existed for more than 500 million years as seen in trilobite fossils. The compound eye of our present day pesky fruit fly has been studied for functionality, structure, and composition [Curious Sidebar: a protein in the eye of the fruit fly is being studied as a means of preventing Alzheimer?s Disease].

Sieler says the technology for their LED smartphone projector, known as array projection, is modeled on that found in nature. "Our projector consists of hundreds of tiny microprojectors in an array, each of which generates a complete image." The optics were manufactured on wafers containing nearly 300 chips, each of which houses 200 lenses for the microprojectors. Each individual image is computed using software developed by the researcher team.

Array of hundreds of tiny microprojectors
Array of hundreds of tiny microprojectors

"For the first time we can create very thin and bright LED projection systems with tremendous imaging properties," continues Sieler. However, the digital imaging system must have a high pixel density for the new projection technology to work. The prototype of the new, small 2x2cm LED projector will be displayed at the Optatec trade fair in Frankfurt Germany next week.