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We see the power of light as the key to unlocking new possibilities for a variety of applications and technologies, including displays and optical sensors.

3M and emerging optical technologies

At 3M, we’re as curious as you are about what we can do with optics and we work relentlessly to make ideas reality. We constantly explore new applications that could benefit from our optical expertise and create new technologies that push the boundaries of what’s possible.

We apply our optical expertise across a variety of industries and emerging applications — from head-up displays (HUDs) in automotive, to augmented reality and virtual reality (AR/VR) headsets in consumer electronics, to health monitoring and more.

But we can’t do it alone. It’s you and your needs that drive our work, because without you, our latest technologies would simply exist without purpose. Let’s collaborate today and talk about your optical material needs and vision for the future.

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Emerging applications

Automotive HUDs

  • Car on road with the automotive head up display showing sensors tracking the location of the road and a pedestrian.
    • We recently helped OEMs improve HUD performance through our ability to control polarization. How? By reimagining light management in windshields.

    • Traditional windshields use a wedge optic design to correct s-polarized light for HUD imaging. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to produce and the image can look fuzzy to shorter or taller drivers. To address this challenge, we replaced the wedge optic with a film that only reflects p-polarized light — our new 3M™ Windshield Combiner Film. The result? A single, crisp image with better viewing angles for drivers.

    • Now you can deliver clearer convenience, entertainment and safety functions to drivers, all with a single, efficient film solution.

AR/VR headsets

  • A person holding an AR/VR headset.
    Pegatron VX6 VR headset
    • Virtual reality allows us to enter new worlds. And the goal of the virtual reality industry is to have these worlds be as vibrant and realistic as possible. This requires displays and optics to achieve high-resolution, high-contrast images.

    • In headset design, thin is in. Traditionally, VR headsets pair a display with magnifying optics. Using traditional optics, the light path, or the distance between the display and the optics, and the optics and the eye, is long, leading to bulky displays.

    • Thanks to 3M, the days of big, awkward headsets with limited resolution are over. By using 3M™ Image Quality Polarizers to fold the light path, our scientists helped headset component makers drastically reduce the form factor, all while increasing resolution. In short, 3M sparked a revolution in virtual reality device design: high resolution in a thin device.

    • In augmented reality, where digital imagery enhances reality, there are similarly difficult challenges: achieve a bright, crisp image, but in a lightweight, glasses-like form factor. We are currently developing materials for augmented reality that improve both performance and efficiency, using manufacturing processes that allow for mass adoption.

    • The possibilities of VR and AR for consumers are endless. The world — from how we live at home and go to work, to how we interact, entertain and work with others — instantly supplemented by the power of the internet and artificial intelligence.

    • How could we help you advance AR/VR? Let’s continue the conversation

Large-area sensing/imaging

  • A large area for sensing and imaging showing visualizations of technology on a desk.
    • Many sensors today are limited to a small area. At 3M, we’re exploring the feasibility of enabling large-area sensing/imaging to help bring new capabilities to a variety of applications.

    • Think of a smartphone where the entire display can be a fingerprint sensor, allowing for increased security through multi-finger authentication or the faster unlocking of apps without having to log in on a separate screen. Or a wearable device with a single sensor capable of sensing over a larger area, all while being thin and flexible.

    • The challenge, manage the light path efficiently, in a cost-effective way and in a form factor that works in devices.

    • Currently in development, our latest optical films are intended to help control light and deliver the necessary thickness and performance needs, so you can bring the world exciting new possibilities.

    • Where do you see large-area sensing/imaging having the greatest impact?

    • Share with us

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Markets and technologies

Healthcare and optics

  • A smart watch on a person's wrist with a heart sensor on.
    • Light management technologies from 3M helped revolutionize consumer electronic devices by optimizing how light behaves in display and sensor systems. We used core capabilities in controlling the wavelength, polarization and angle of light, as well as optical bonding to help make devices thinner, more power efficient, brighter and enabled new capabilities like imaging a face or fingerprint through the display.

    • Now, we’re bringing similar benefits to healthcare applications. These include optimized system-level attributes like signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), accuracy, form factor, power consumption, measurement time and frequency — all to improve sensor performance that enables new-to-world health diagnostics and monitoring.

Optical metamaterials

3M has a rich history in optics and replication technologies. We’ve used our capabilities to generate optical and physical structures at a variety of scale sizes and applied them to a range of applications, including light control films. Now, we’re taking our technology even further.

  • High aspect ratio nanostructures fabricated with roll-to-roll processes.
    High aspect ratio nanostructures fabricated with roll-to-roll processes

    Optical metasurfaces

    • The next frontier of optical control

    • Sometimes, you’ve got to think small. At 3M, we’ve moved from the micro to the nano scale, developing nanoscale optical structures to enable optical metasurfaces.

    • What are metasurfaces?

    • A subset of metamaterials, optical metasurfaces are two-dimensional arrays of subwavelength scatterers called “meta-atoms”. By controlling the size and orientation of these individual features, you can engineer the phase, amplitude and polarization of light. The result? Novel optical functionality to deliver improved performance across a variety of optical applications.

    • Bringing optical metasurfaces to life

    • We’re developing a roll-to-roll nanopatterning process which is scalable (not constrained to wafer or panel sizes). We worked with top researchers in the field to demonstrate the technology and leading industry players to understand what it means for light management solutions in optical applications, including displays and optical sensors.

    • Could your application benefit from this capability? Work with us to address your specific optical material challenges

Collaboration is the best way forward

No matter what you’re working on — or thinking about working on — our technical experts are here to help connect possibility to reality.

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