Yoichi Ochiai from the University of Tokyo and colleagues have created the world's thinnest screen from a soap bubble that can display vivid images that are either flat, textured or 3D.
Compared to conventional screens that are opaque, a soap film varies in transparency and reflectance. The team was able to control these properties by using ultrasonic sound waves emitted from speakers to alter the surface. By using a single projector, the texture of an image can then be changed on the fly, for example to make a ball look smooth or rough.
Several screens can also be combined to create a 3D effect. By tweaking the transparency of the membranes, and displaying alternate images on each one, a holographic projection is created. Since the film is made from a mixture of colloids that make it hard to pop, objects can pass through it without breaking the surface. It's therefore possible to poke the screen and interact with it.
According to Alexis Oyama, a member of the team, the display should be useful to artists and exhibitors to give an image a more realistic feel. For example, since the screen is transparent, a projection of the Earth looks like it's suspended in the air. "Museums could display floating planets by using this technology," he says. By applying the film to a polygon-shaped frame, a lifelike object can be also be generated from a projector.
The system will be presented in August at Siggraph 2012, a conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, in Los Angeles.