2018 CES Haier Laser Projector Watch – (Wrist Projector Scams Revisited)

[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]

Reality Versus Hype

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:

  1. The angle of projection is limited by the thickness of the watch.
  2. 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)
  3. The human hand varies in color and reflectivity and it not a suitable projection surface.
  4. Projecting at a shallow on an irregular surface, a human hand or arm causes shadows/gaps in the image
  5. 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. 

Conclusion

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.

14 comments

  1. Hi Karl,

    Have you ever come across a glasses frame-mounted projector that could project outwards (and downwards, for safety, I imagine) to where the user could hold the palm of their hand as the screen? Maybe cupped to provide some shade from ambient illumination.

    Just trying to think of a use for all these technologies that people are making big efforts to develop but that are flawed in one way or another, as you have been pointing out in your recent articles.

    Regards,
    Fergal.

    1. There has been a lot of speculative use of projectors mounted on people. The one that sort-of got off the ground was castAR which made a lot of fanfare but went bankrupt in 2017.

      The whole idea of having the projector(s) on your body and projecting on say your hands just is not very practical. There is so much “leverage” between your body and your hand that it would be very hard to project out from say your head or chest and hit your hand. Then you have all the “usual” problems with ambient light. It would take a lot of concentration and effort just to hit your hand. It would also be ridiculously expensive compared to a cheap flat panel. If something like this is what you want, I would think that flexible direct view displays like OLED ones LG has been showing would be more the way to go.

  2. Hello Karl,

    I am missing technology details. E.g. that Haier (ASU Tech) uses the Bosch BML050 MEMS laser projector (also shown at CES 2018: https://twitter.com/BoschMEMS/status/950810704751284224; confirmed by Bosch itself: Bosch retweetet https://twitter.com/svenstein/status/951221985224294400). So, not a Chinese development from Haier, a projector from Germany.

    BML050: https://www.bosch-sensortec.com/bst/products/all_products/bml050, Specification: https://ae-bst.resource.bosch.com/media/_tech/media/product_flyer/BML050_Productflyer_BST_20170224.pdf: “Video resolution Standard 854 x 480”. So, the specification at the ASU website could not be true: http://www.asucast.com/Home/En/specs.

    Will you compare STM, Bosch, Sony, Pioneer and Microvision laser projector modules? Why is Bosch entering this market, after Sony failed? Bosch claimed the production is sold out for two years, but I have not seen an product on the market and Bosch seems to be behind the schedule. Also, Bosch reduced the resolution in the specification from HD to 854 x 480. Another interesting projector would by the Pioneer MEMS laser 3D-LiDAR: Resolution: http://global.pioneer/en/news/press/2017/pdf/0907-1.pdf

    Best regards,

    Johann

    1. Thanks for the information on Haier/ASU watch using a BML050. I found out about the Bosch LBS at CES after I got back, I would have liked to see it. I forgot about them when I was writing the article but I will add this information.

      I meant to write that I didn’t know the source of the LBS “engine.” I figured it was not Microvision or Microvision would have said something. It is interesting that Bosch only indirectly confirms it in the Twitter stream. Still, it appears that ASU developed the watch itself integrating the Bosch engine.

      Unfortunately, companies lie about their spec’s all the time as there are no “marketing police.” I figured they were not telling the truth about their resolution as I wrote in the article and they are probably not telling the truth about their lumens. I didn’t have a lot of time at CES to check it out nor the setup with the ability to control the inputs. All I know is the resolution of the image was very low, but then you are projecting on a person’s hand.

      Based on my studies of LBS engines, I would seriously doubt that the BML050 can fully resolve (50% MTF) 854×480, but maybe Bosch has more integrity than Sony and Microvision and they reduced their spec accordingly. It may try/input 854×480, but I doubt it can resolve that across the field. With laser scanning, the beam is constantly accelerating/decelerating. At least according to an old Symbol paper (https://www.techworld.com/cmsdata/whitepapers/4520/wp-lpd.pdf) dual mirror LBS, which Bosch, has fewer issues with distortion.

      It is hard to explain why companies do things beyond the vagaries of the management and people within various companies. Sometimes is it just someone with enough authority, but without the technical understanding, approves of a development. Sometimes it is an R&D effort that escapes the lab because some executive thought it would make the company look “high tech and new.” I always got the sense that this is what happened at Sony. Sony played around for a while with what was for them a very small sum of money, and then got out. Maybe someone at Bosch thought they could do better than Sony and got in because Sony did.

      If someone would give me working modules I would take a look at them, for intellectual curiosity if nothing else. I already did a fairly extensive analysis of the Sony engine (I just bought a Celluon Picopro) but that took a lot of time.

      Single axis mirrors are VERY common and used in bar scanners and other products. Many companies are making them. It appears that Bosch is working with Fraunhofer in the development of their mems (https://www.ipms.fraunhofer.de/en/research-development/mems-sensors.html).

      It appears that a lot of people are looking at using mems laser scanning in LiDar, but there are a lot of competing technologies in this space including using multiple cameras (ala Tesla) and using time of flight cameras.

      Also, according to the Tweet stream you linked to, ASU-Tech is a subsidiary of Haier. This can be confirmed the report linked to below:
      Haier listing ASU as a Subsidiary in 2016: http://www.haier.net/cn/investor_relations/stock_a/company_accouncements/201706/P020170621326387245964.pdf

      1. That’s not true. You are the marketing police in this Brave New (augmented) World, Karl, and you are doing a fantastic job of it.

        Consumers want pervasive AR to be true (a whale can jump out of the floor of a school gymnasium?) and company marketeers are willing to fill that void with, um, magic whales. Imagine if you launched a new smartphone that only ran demo-ware, and used videos of Shaq holding it in his hands (to make it look smaller than it is); you’d get laughed out of business.

        It is also kind of weird the number of really reputable companies that have a (misplaced) toehold in this segment. As you say, it is just an organisational dynamics thing (we want to be in the AR segment because its ‘sexy’). There are charlatans like Lucyd and their ICO, and there are legitimate companies like Intel who shouldn’t be in there. It’s a very unusual market. It is high tech, but it is not driven by normal rationalising forces of the industry. It’s fun to watch it roll out.

        1. Thanks, but I am only putting my finger in the dike of misinformation.

          People see things in movies and think it is only a matter of time. The con artist can leverage this belief and desire; they say “Moore’s Law and Steve Jobs” and anything is possible in the future.

          At the big high tech companies, nobody wants to be considered a “flat-earther” and companies are driven by “Fear of Missing Out” (FoMO). The downside of being wrong is maybe 10’s or a few 100’s of millions of dollars, but missing out could be billions. If you are Google, say, your fear is missing the “next big thing” and looking like Microsoft does now with respect to cell phones. People mistake the amount of money being thrown around with the level of commitment or belief. The researchers sometimes may know better, but they are getting paid to do fun stuff and who knows, “Moore’s Law and Steve Jobs,” maybe someone will make it possible.

  3. Hi Karl, I think the resolution on the ASU page is from the old version of the watch. I think the old version used the STM projector (as Lenovo does it in its smartphone prototype). ASU likely switched to Bosch because the Bosch engine is not a projector only, it integrates also an infrared laser for touch functionality, allowing interaction with the projection. Bosch had the ASU watch also in its booth at CES.

    1. Thanks for the info.

      But how are they going to do touch input with such a shallow projection angle with your hand moving? It sounds kind of silly.

      I’m trying to think of all the people that have tried laser projectors over the years. I have seen both Samsung and Hitachi projectors that I think they both abandoned. Many years ago I heard both TI and ATT looked at it. Then you have the Symbol effort before they were bought by Motorola. From what I gather, Bosch is a productization of Fraunhofer’s R&D.

      I can’t figure what Bosch think they are doing with LBS. Both the lamp-projector they showed at CES and the ASU-Tech watch are silly applications. LBS is perpetually stuck with forever being very low resolution. As “touch” and gesture input is is not very good due to resolution and lack of tactile feedback. I mean you would be better off with a slightly bigger watch or to wait for the thin flexible displays that are being developed.

    1. Based on the available information including evidence of the ASU-Tech watch being in Bosch’s booth at CES, it is a Bosch engine. It becomes semantics as to what constitutes a company’s design. It looks like ASU-Tech (now a Haier subsidiary) used the Bosch engine in their watch design.

      1. Thanks. I suppose if it was microvision IP they’d be shrieking it from the rooftops. Then again, they’ve been humiliated into silence since 2010. When it became apparent that the technology wasn’t what it had been hyped and pumped to be, and that the entire industry was treating them as a joke, they muzzled the CEO.

  4. You should check out the Lumiwatch video from the Human-Computer Interaction Institue at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA). Lumiwatch projects onto the arm instead of the hand with sensor.
    I own an amazing little HD laser projector called a PicoBit and projected onto my arm and hand at an oblique angle and though the image is not super sharp and in focus like on a smooth projector screen one can still make out text and images.
    Projecting onto the body at an oblique angle can only be done only using laser projectors because only a laser projector will stay in focus at any distance.
    Karl’s implication that the Sony/Microvision technology in the PicoBit is not HD is a lie. The image is not only HD but speckle free with super vivid color and contrast and clarity. I put it up against an HD DLP projector that uses many times the power and lumens and the PicoBit looks brighter and the image is of at least equal resolution and does not require focusing! Other viewers agreed with me.

    1. I have provided plenty of evidence that Sony/Microvision laser scanning technology is nowhere near HD resolution. I have published pictures with test patterns and I have explained the problems with the scanning process. You apparently don’t understand what HD resolution means. The whole “Laser Lumens are brighter than DLP/LED lumens” is a lie.

      I have looked at the Carnegie Mellon works and view the ASU/Haier watch projector at CES 2018. It is totally silly as a product. You arm is not flat and full of hairs that will cause in-focus shadows laser scanning.

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