FogScreen is an exciting new projection technology that allows you to project images and video onto a screen of "dry" fog, creating the illusion that the images are floating in midair. Inspired by science fiction movies such as Star Wars, two Finnish virtual reality researchers created the FogScreen to recreate some of the effects from these movies in real life. The FogScreen Inia debuted at the 2002 Turku Science Fair. The FogScreen Company was founded in 2003 and volume production of the Inia began in 2004. An interactivity add-on, which lets you write "in the air" and even control a computer, debuted in 2005. The FogScreen One launched in 2006.
Recently, TechRepublic's Ken Keesling interviewed Jorden Woods, FogScreen's President of US Operations, to discuss the technology behind FogScreen's innovative dry fog projection screen.
How does FogScreen work?
FogScreen technology is a high-tech version of the technology in a cool air humidifier. Tap water is pumped into the fog tank where it is blasted with ultrasound, turning it instantly into a thick fog made of tiny water particles 2-3 microns in diameter. The tank's internal design plus 3 sets of fans work together to create a very thin wall of mist about half of an inch thick. One set of fans blows the fog downwards while the other two sandwichs the fog between air curtains so that it becomes a smooth projection screen.
What was the process involved in developing the FogScreen Technology?
The founders of the FogScreen were intrigued with the prospect of creating an image that could float in the air and that people could walk through (ie the Princess Leia effect). They set out to make a projected image float in the air by using different media such as dust, water, fog, and then a mist of tiny water droplets. They then had to iterate their design repeatedly to ensure that people would not get wet and that the FogScreen could operate within a broad range of environmental conditions.
What technological challenges were involved?
Development of the FogScreen required overcoming four main technological challenges. These were:
- Developing a medium made of water that people could walk through without getting wet
- Ensuring that the medium could capture an image and render it with acceptable resolution and color saturation
- Protecting the integrity of the mist-based screen from wind and air currents set up when people walk through the screen
- Minimizing the formation of water droplets (condensation) on the FogScreen unit so that the screen does not drip
Were there any particular hurdles to overcome with the linkablity of The One unit?
Seamless linkability incorporated significant changes to the design of the FogScreen. Specialized, removable endcaps were developed, with separate fans that enable the screens to bolt together. The tank and the rigging system also needed significant modification.
How do you create a "dry" fog?
FogScreen creates a "dry" fog by ensuring that the water droplets are in the range of 2-3 microns in size and are electrostatically charged so that they move around and away from other objects.
How do you break down the water droplets into those sizes and ensure the water droplets stay in that size range?
We use ultrasonic transducers to blast the water into very small water droplets. We ensure that only the smallest water droplets become part of the fog stream by pushing the water droplets over an internal barrier to the central chamber. The heavier water droplets stay behind and do not become part of the stream.
How does FogScreen create and maintain a laminar flow meters away from the unit in unpredictable environments, especially with people moving through the FogScreen?
The FogScreen maintains a laminar flow meters away from the unit by sandwiching the fog between two air curtains (one in front of and the other behind the fog flow), as well as matching the flows between these 3 air flows to minimize turbulence. The air curtains protect the integrity of the FogScreen and reform it quickly when people pass through it.
FogScreen has been used in nightclubs, live theater, product launches, museums, and more. What are some of the more innovative ways you've seen the FogScreen used?
The most innovative uses have been in live performances and with audience interactivity:
Live performances - Four 2-meter FogScreens were recently used at a live event in which images were projected on the FogScreen while a dance troupe danced under and through the images and fog streams. Fog machines were used on the floor and the dancers matched their movements to the themes projected on the FogScreens.
Interactivity - A theater recently held a party in which they projected the image of an actress at a remote location onto the FogScreen. The actress was in a Victorian dress and looked something like a ghost on the screen. The actress was linked via closed circuit television to the audience in the room and could hear and see them. Things became very interesting when the image on the FogScreen started calling people by name, reacting to people walking through her, and generally creating a lot of mischief, confusion, and humor by talking with people in the room.
The interactivity add-on can be used to control a computer and write and draw on the FogScreen. What kinds of real-world, practical application have you seen the interactivity add-on used for?
One of the main practical applications that the interactivity function provides is treating patients with cognitive disorders or who are going through other types of rehabilitation. By interacting with the learning programs provided, the FogScreen adds an extra incentive of excitement and wonder for patients, to the point where they forget they are actually rehabbing or are aware that they are learning new skills.
Are there any future uses that are particularly interesting or innovative?
While there are endless ways to utilize the FogScreen, we really believe that advertisers will greatly benefit from our devices. Capturing audience attention has long been the "holy grail" of advertisers and marketers. We provide a fully interactive solution to help increase brand awareness for those using our technology.
What new technology are you working on for the future?
FogScreen is working on new hardware products - FogScreen with specialized capabilities (ie live performances, retail environments, etc.). There are also significant enhancements being made to the interactivity and 3-dimensional imaging capabilities of the screen.