New display technology includes magnetic pixels

Display technology, from CRTs to LCDs, exists to visually convey information to humans and it does it very well. But the lack of physical presence makes visual displays unnecessary for almost everything else. Blind people cannot sense pixels, and computers need resource-intensive algorithms to make sense of the images we provide them. That’s why engineers at MIT CSAIL and the University of Calgary have developed a new type of display technology that relies on magnetic pixels called “mixels.”

In this context, “mixels” are individual elements that form a magnetic image. A modified SnapMaker CNC machine with an electromagnetic head controlled by Arduino Nano can set each mixel to a magnetic north polarity, south polarity, or demagnetized state. A Hall effect sensor on the head allows the Arduino to detect the polarity of each mixel so it can scan the image. Like a raster image made up of traditional visual pixels, these mixel images can be complex. A mixel image could, for example, represent a QR code in order to store data. Each mixel is a single bit readable with a low cost hall effect sensor.

Mixel images have additional potential through their physical presence. By “drawing” specific polarity patterns, it is possible to create objects with mixel images that repel or attract the corresponding mixel images. These can become touch screens, combinations of keys and locks, and much more. Mixels are also reprogrammable, as the electromagnetic drawing head can reset the polarity of a mixel as needed. Mixel images are not normally visible to the naked eye, but polarized film allows a person to see the status of each Mixel without the need for electronic equipment. Mixel displays have many applications and will come in handy with more affordable head motion systems.

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Ruby A. Robillard