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Your next smartphone could have a projector, courtesy of Lumiode LED microdisplays

Lumiode microdisplays pack tiny LEDs into a small, bright, and super efficient display.

If you think the Retina display on an iPad looks unreal with its 2048 by 1536-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch, just imagine a display with 2,500 individual LEDs in a package that's only five square-centimeters in size--that's smaller than just about any piece of your phone.

At the right in the picture above is a typical LED display that's similar to those used in electronic billboards found in New York's Times Square or the Las Vegas strip. This panel uses 2304 individual LEDs as pixels, arranged in a 48 by 48-LED grid. The chip on the left, however, is a new type of micro-display developed by Lumiode that has tiny micro-sized LEDs arranged in a 50 by 50 grid--all confined into an one-square-millimeter array.

I spoke with Lumiode Vice President Brian Tull, who says that the company's micro-display will be 30 times brighter than your traditional LED-backlit screen, making it usable even in bright sunlight. Unlike your HDTV or monitor these LEDs--each of which acts as an individual pixel--do not need to shine light through polarizing layers or filters, which can dim the final picture you see on a more traditional display.

Lumiode technology is what's known as an emissive display--that is, it only provides power to the LEDs that need to be lit, thus saving power and providing a display with true blacks that you can only really get with a high-end LCD or plasma TV.

One of Lumiode's LED micro-displays under a microscope, as shown on a laptop.

When paired with a lens, Lumiode display doubles as a small projector that Brian says it could easily be added on as a Pico projector-like device to just about any smartphone.

Alternatively, the LED micro-display could be projected onto a transparent medium, such as a Google Glass-mounted eyepiece or a car windshield, to be used as a heads up display.

"The reason this exists now is because our CEO Vincent Lee worked out the method of controlling a large amount of LEDs pixels by growing high-quality silicon transistors," Brian explained. Both silicon transistors and the ability to pixelate LEDs have been around for a while.

It's only recently, however, Lumiode has managed to marry the two technologies together using a process developed at Columbia University. With this technique, Lumiode can use a very-high-density LED array as an actual display. The team is currently working toward a complete prototype that incorporates all the technology into a projector.

Among the working milestones, the Lumiode team believes it's on the verge of moving its micro-displays from monochromatic to full color displays with red, green, and blue LEDs. In the next year, the team expects to start creating really small displays formats with resolutions of roughly 320 by 480 pixels.

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