Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark in 'Iron Man' series
MIT researchers are hoping to create the type of technology Tony Stark or 'Iron Man' is known for using. Reuters

Wish you could work using a transparent glass screen capable of projecting holographic images from your computer screen like Tony Stark? In the near future, you might be able to.

Scientists at MIT have succeeded in building a transparent holographic projection screen made from glass that is able to project images onto glass, a feat that is usually impossible.

Light usually passes straight through glass, but according to the study, the new technology is able to reflect images on a transparent screen due to silver nanoparticles that have been sprinkled all over the screen and covered with a thin layer of plastic foil.

The tiny nanoparticles, about the size of 60 nanometers (one nanometer is one billionth of a metre), are able to pick up on an image cast by a laser projector and reflect specific colours of light back at the viewer's eyes, enabling an entire image to be seen on the transparent glass screen.

"The plastic looks basically transparent—but if you hit it with just the right wavelength of light it will scatter strongly, producing an image on the glass," Marin Soljacic, a physics professor at MIT and coauthor on the study says in the video.

Glass projectors

Currently there are glass projectors in existence, but they are only able to project images directly at the eye of the viewer. MIT's invention makes projected images visible from virtually any angle, and best of all, the cost of making the screen is very cheap at only $10 (£6, €7).

"We envision that in the future, people will go to their convenience store to buy this piece of plastic, then go home and stick it onto their windows or wherever they want to project images," said Chia Wei (Wade) Hsu, an MIT graduate student, in the video.

At the moment, the nanoparticles can only reflect one colour, so the scientists first need to develop nanoparticles that can reflect all three primary colours back at the viewer, so that "full colour images" can then be shown to viewers.

MIT 'Tony Stark' Transparent Projector Screen
MIT has invented a transparent glass screen that can project images.

Real-world applications would then be possible, such as advertisements on the sides of skyscrapers and in shop windows, or navigation data attached to aircraft windshields will be possible.

Speaking of Iron Man, MIT's screen would go very nicely together with Elon Musk's motion-controlled computer system, which enables you to use hand gestures to move a computer aided design (CAD) model around on a 3D screen.


Musk, who is said to be Robert Downey Jr's inspiration for the Tony Stark character, has not said when his system will be commercially available, however there is a new solution expected in July 2014 that combines technology similar to both MIT's screen and Musk's motion-controlled computer – the Meta Pro.

The Meta Pro is a pair of augmented reality aviator sunglasses that comes together with a pocket computer that is worn at the waist.

The glasses feature a built-in camera, 3D surround sound, 9-axis motion tracking, as well as a 40-degree field of 3D HD display.

The firm Meta is working on a platform full of matching augmented reality-enabled apps to go with its device, which will cost $667 for a developer kit, and $3,000 once the full product is complete.