What if displays weren’t just another pretty face, something colorful and interesting to look at? What if they could also detect information from their surroundings? What if they had sensors built into them?

The fact is that this is not a new concept; as early as 2003, Toshiba showed an LCD panel that could also scan documents held against the glass. Now comes news that researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology (FEP) have developed an OLED microdisplay that incorporates image sensors directly in the panel. This device is suitable for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) applications for near-to-eye displays.

The current prototypes have 800 by 600 full color (RGBW) resolution. The sensors can be used for a variety of applications. For example, the feature can be used for an eye-tracking system. This could provide hands-free interaction with a computer while wearing goggles. The user could look at a menu item on the screen to trigger a desired function. This could be useful in enterprise applications where technicians need to access information while making repairs to equipment. The same functions could help individuals with physical impairments, such as patients with ALS. The system could be used to compose text messages that would then be read aloud by the computer.

This is just one more example of how additional features can make a device much more useful than when it’s limited to a single function. Fraunhofer FEP is making evaluation kits of these new display panels available to industry partners, and intend to further their development.