Using its Lightfield technology, Leia Inc. makes screen images more intuitive and beautiful on mobile devices and in vehicles. However, the story behind the idea for the new 3D screen technology came totally by accident. The tech may help to prevent accidents in the future.
Auto Futures talks with David Fattal, CEO and Co-Founder of Leia Inc.
Leia is based on nanotechnology designed and developed at HP Labs in Palo Alto, California in 2010 following a discovery that happened by accident.
“We were then working on another project called Optical Interconnects, using nanostructures to route light signals inside computer chips. We were forced out of the lab during a company fire drill and brought a prototype to the outside parking in the sun. A crowd gathered around us and the prototype, noticing the sunlight diffracted by the nano-structures in a colourful myriad of directions, creating a holographic-like effect,” says Fattal.
This light show sparked the core idea behind Leia’s future Lightfield technology. The team including Leia’s CTO, Zhen Peng, wanted to develop the concept further. Leia spun off of HP Labs in 2014 to found Leia Inc. The company spent five years developing the Lightfield hardware.
Leia entered the automotive industry through a partnership with Continental that was formalized in the summer of 2019.
“Continental’s Natural 3D Display concept uses our proprietary DLB™ (Diffractive Lightfield Backlighting) technology, offering the next level to conventional 3D displays and enabling a pristine “2D” viewing experience at the highest resolution available in a car today,” says Fattal.
Leia is set to produce displays for car dashboards and entertainment systems by 2022, using a proprietary nano-imprint process to manufacture DLB technology.
Improving usability and reducing clutter
For the automotive industry, Lightfield has many use cases that are relevant for drivers and passengers, impacting connectivity, infotainment, navigation and safety, while replacing the need for a mobile device while driving. Fattal imagines these scenarios:
· Having a bird’s eye view of the car gives the driver an intuitive feel for the three-dimensional environment and can improve the parking experience.
· 3D Navigation with depth and look-around can increase the situational awareness, especially in an urban setting, keeping the driver’s attention less on the map and more on the road.
· The Lightfield medium brings back to life the old dashboard with all the beauty of its materials, textures and structural details. However, it keeps the flexibility of design offered by digital displays. It allows for the layering of information in the instrument cluster or central information display, reducing cluttering and improving usability.
“People will experience a richer, more immersive visual experience…”
Leia is growing a Lightfield ecosystem of immersive gaming, social sharing, and even e-commerce activities. The company is working on content services to make sure future customers will have to a large library of 3D content and apps.
“Our scientists released their first paper on Lightfield image style transfer,” he proudly reports.
“We are planning to make an Automotive SDK’ available to third-party developers, giving them access to the 3D environment of the car as recorded by the suite of available sensors,” says Fattal.
“As the car starts driving itself and becomes a hub of entertainment and productivity, the Lightfield medium will provide an enhanced visual experience for pure entertainment and productivity, in tasks ranging from video calls to video streaming, gaming and online shopping.”
In the future by 2030, Fattal envisions the automotive cockpit will become a hub of productivity and entertainment, filled with displays. AI-powered digital assistants will have a human face and will attend to your every need.
Sensors inside and outside the car will ensure your safety while also enabling a realistic augmented reality experience that will transport you outside of the confines of the cockpit.
Drivers and passengers alike will engage in the same tasks they do on their smartphones today, from video calls to social sharing, gaming or online shopping. The activities will be enhanced by the Lightfield medium.
“People will experience a richer, more immersive visual experience that blurs the lines between the physical confines of the car and the exterior with virtual augmentation,” says Fattal
“Building on our recent partnerships with Continental and RED, a mobile supplier, we plan to continue delivering Lightfield as a medium across many different industries to become the new standard for displays of the future.”