[Updated Feb. 18, 2018. A reader provided additional information about the Haier/ASU-Tech watch. According to a set of Tweets linked here, the Haier laser watch uses a Bosch BML050 dual mirror laser projector engine. That engine only claims to be 854 by 480 pixels, contrary to ASU-Tech’s claim of 1024 by 600. The Tweets also say that ASU-Tech is a subsidiary of Haier. I have added this information in blue to the article]
I started on this piece a while ago, but it kept getting interrupted by other articles including the ones on the recent Magic Leap Recode Video. Over the last four years, I must have seen more than ten wrist projector concepts faked in photographs and videos. Finally, at CES 2018, one showed up and demonstrated why the whole concept IMO is a scam. This type of comparison I am waiting to do with some AR headset that may be promising more than they can deliver (cough-cough, Magic Leap).
While I was at CES 2018, a friend told me, jokingly, I should go down to the Haier booth and see the “The Watch Projector I said was impossible.” To be clear, what wrote in my October 6th, 2016 article titled “Wrist Projector Scams – Ritot, Cicret, the new eyeHand” was, “When I say scam, I mean that there is zero chance that they will ever deliver anything even remotely close what they are promising.“
Haier/ASU-Tech Projector Watch
Haier, mostly known in the United States for refrigerators, was showing a projector watch developed by Chinese startup Beijing ASU Tech (ASU-Tech, to not to be confused with Arizona State University). The business relationship is between Haier and ASU is not clear. In my prior article on wrist projectors, I missed that ASU-Tech had released a video during CES 2016, compete with faking the display (more on that later). According to Haier, the projector watch will only be available in China.
The ASU-Tech watch uses a small Laser Beam Scanning (LBS) display. The ASU-Tech Website claims the projector has 1024×600 resolution which A) I seriously doubt, and B) It was no were close to that projected on the back of a person’s hand. BTW, I have written extensively on this blog about Laser Beam Scanning Projectors. [updated Feb 18th, 2018] According to a set of Twitter Messages linked here, the watch uses a Bosch BML050 dual mirror laser projector engine. That engine only claims to be 854 by 480 pixels, contrary to ASU-Tech’s claim of 1024 by 600-pixels. The projected resolution of the watch appears to be lower still (more like 320 by 180 or less), but I have not had a chance to seriously evaluated it.
ASU-Tech claims outputs between 5 and 15 lumens (I seriously doubt it is near 15 lumens) which if true will, drain the claimed 740mAh battery quickly. They don’t specify the power consumption or battery life, but I would estimate that they would burn at least 2 Watts at 5 lumens and 4 Watts at 15 lumens based on other LBS projectors. By these rough estimates, they would thus have between 30 minutes and 1.2 hours of projection time (the ones at CES were all plugged into power).
The use of LBS addresses the focusing issue when projecting at a very shallow angle. The distance from the projector to the near and far side is large and can dramatically as a result of how the wrist is bent and therefore the focus distance changes dramatically.
The Watch is about 18mm thick or about 1.7X thicker than an Apple Watch which makes it large and cumbersome. There is a mirror inside the watch to let them bounce the image from a point as about as high as possible. The only way to reduce the fundamental distortion and shadow problems inherent in projecting at such a shallow angle would be to make the watch even thicker.
The fundament and unsolvable problems include:
- The angle of projection is limited by the thickness of the watch.
- The ambient light from the real world in brightly lit rooms or worse outdoors will drop the contrast to near zero (see next section for an example)
- The human hand varies in color and reflectivity and it not a suitable projection surface.
- Projecting at a shallow on an irregular surface, a human hand or arm causes shadows/gaps in the image
- Projecting at such a shallow angle is that even slight movement of the wrist causes the image to change the size and shape dramatically (see the image below).
A person’s hand is a lousy projection screen, to begin with, due to coloration and lumps and bumps. Then when you project across those lumps and bumps at a shallow angle, parts of the image get blocked. Even in the best case, the image is distorted, and if you went outside in the daytime, it would be washed out. The image that you can generate is about the same size as the one a typical smartwatch. A larger watch screen or a second watch would be infinitely more useful than a projector watch.
Wrist Projectors and Fake Images
During CES 2016 ASU-Tech published a video with fake demonstrations of their watch (stills from that video on the left). ASU-Tech video showed “projecting black,” which violates the laws of physics. Less obvious, but also fake is the projection shown in the righthand image, which has none of the lumps and shadows from veins in a person’s hand due to the very shallow projection angle.
Even when making the fake videos, ASU-Tech had to have the running in shadow. The fundamental problem with projection is that “black” is controlled by the ambient light. As seen on the left, even on a smooth white background the image can get washed out, no imagine if you were outdoors where the light would be 50 to 100 times brighter.
The Ambient light, the fact that the human body is a poor surface to project onto, and the shallow projection angle are all fundamentally unsolvable problems. And still, people have been scammed out of millions of dollars on Indiegogo and the like by Ritot, Cicret, and eyeHand. A selection of the poorly faked images they used to help scam people are shown below. These images all show projecting black/dark and thus are not even “good fakes.” The Cicret projects an image that can’t possibly be that big near the projector, and there is no way that the light could clear the butt of a person’s thumb from such a shallow angle.
Sadly, even big companies see these scams and incorporate them into their (fake) “marketing concepts.” As I showed back in 2016 with Dell and Hilton (see below). These poorly conceived marketing ads only served to help the scammers and show that the big company’s marketing firms don’t understand the technology.
Haier is mostly known the U.S. for small refrigerators, although they manufacture a wide range of home appliances and bathroom fixtures. I have no idea why they are messing around with a projector watch, but they seem to have a fascination with laser projection. Haier in 2015 sold an $8,000 Star Wars’ R2D2 shaped refrigerator robot with a Microvision laser projector (I don’t think they sold many). My advice to Haier or anyone else getting into displays is that you should either be serious about it and build up your expertise or stick with technology you understand.