Korea has developed AR-compatible 3D printing using transparent displays.

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A Revolutionary Breakthrough in 3D Printing Technology

In June of 2023, a groundbreaking study was published in ACS Nano, a renowned materials science journal. The study, conducted by a research team at the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute (KERI), focused on the development of 3D printing technology capable of producing transparent displays optimized for augmented reality (AR) devices. This revolutionary advancement has the potential to transform the AR industry and open up new possibilities for various applications.

The study, titled “Three-Dimensional Printing of Structural Color Using a Femtoliter Meniscus,” was part of a larger project by KERI called “Development of 4D printing technology for circuit/housing integrated devices.” The researchers aimed to achieve structural color on the finished displays, similar to the dynamic color changes observed in chameleon skin.

To understand the operation of this cutting-edge 3D printing technology, it is important to first grasp the concept of a “meniscus.” In this context, a meniscus refers to the curve formed when tension is created between the liquid in a container and the liquid dispensed onto a surface. The researchers at KERI developed their method using a nanopipette combined with direct ink writing (DIW) 3D printing. This approach allowed them to deposit polymer ink onto a variety of different substrates, including quartz, silicon, and platinum.

The main goal of this study was to control color patterns on the transparent displays without using dyes. This is crucial to achieve the desired transparency of the end-product. Components known as “diffraction gratings,” which are increasingly common in the optics industry, play a pivotal role in manipulating structural color. These gratings are vital for the manufacturing of AR and virtual reality (VR) hardware.

While the KERI research team claims to have developed the “world’s first” additive manufacturing (AM) process for AR-specific displays, the veracity of this statement cannot be independently verified. However, it is undeniable that this 3D printing method stands out as one of the most unique and innovative approaches in the industry.

The journey to this breakthrough has been a long one for KERI, with years of dedicated research focused on developing transparent displays. As a non-profit organization funded by the South Korean government, KERI operates multiple locations, including its headquarters in the city of Changwon. This city is known for housing “70% of South Korea’s defense industry” and several manufacturing facilities for major corporations. Therefore, KERI has a wide range of potential customers right at its doorstep who have likely already shown interest in this remarkable R&D breakthrough.

Even tech giant Apple, which recently held its first-ever Smart Manufacturing Forum in Pohang, South Korea, less than 100 miles from KERI, could be an interested party. The forum was part of an initiative forced on Apple by the Korea Fair Trade Commission, requiring the company to share details with South Korean small and medium enterprise (SME) manufacturers as part of a fine payment. Furthermore, Apple has plans to release its first VR headset and is reported to be considering metal AM for the next generation of the Apple Watch Ultra, making 3D printed displays a potential game-changer for the company’s product development.

This breakthrough in 3D printing technology also aligns with Meta’s acquisition of Luxexcel at the end of last year. Meta, a prominent player in the AR and VR industry, aims to leverage 3D printing to produce lenses for their own augmented and virtual reality devices.

In conclusion, the study conducted by the research team at KERI represents a significant leap forward in 3D printing technology. It has the potential to revolutionize the AR industry, create opportunities in various sectors such as environmental sensors and anticounterfeiting methods, and attract the interest of major tech companies like Apple. As we eagerly await further developments, it is evident that this groundbreaking achievement is a testament to the innovation and dedication of the researchers at KERI.

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