The development of a tiny new video projector has recently been announced by Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) via its spin-off company, Lemoptix. The projector is said to be smaller in area than a credit card, with a projection head measuring one cubic centimeter. Developers of the device foresee it becoming commercially available in smartphones, laptops and digital cameras, with industrial applications including possible use in operating rooms.

The projector’s micro electro-mechanical (MEM) system incorporates a tiny mirror, less than a millimeter thick. It is mounted on a silicon disc, where it reflects red, green and blue laser beams. The mirror oscillates rapidly, allowing the three combined laser beams to scan a projection surface up to 20,000 times a second.

Last month, the Lemoptix team had their first success in using the device to project a VGA (640 x 480) image. It can project from a minimum distance of 50 centimeters (19.7 inches), producing an image equivalent in size to a 15-inch (38 cm.) screen. Larger screen sizes are achieved simply by moving the projector farther back from the projection surface, which will not require the user to refocus the image.

Not only is the projector small, but the developers claim it uses 30 percent less electricity than the mirror matrix- or LED-based technology which is currently in use. This, they explain, is due to the highly-focused laser light source, the highly-reflective mirror, and the fact that less optical processing is required. It is also claimed that the components should be easy and inexpensive to produce in large batches, as existing semiconductor-manufacturing technology could be used.

Lemoptix sees the device being incorporated into consumer electronics by 2012. By the end of next year, however, they plan on it being available for industrial clients. One such client could be automakers, who would use it for heads-up displays, in which driving information is projected onto the inside of a car’s windshield. Another client could be medical technology companies, who would use it in operating rooms to project patient information directly onto the patient’s body, saving surgeons from having to look up at screens.

An interactive display, where users could manipulate the image by touching it, is also in the works.