Sure they’ve gotten a smaller, lighter, brighter, and sharper, but modern projectors—even the tiny "pico projectors"—haven’t evolved significantly from their birth in the 1980s. They’re still obnoxious boxes that fit into our lives and homes worse than our TVs, somehow. And that’s a shame, because the right projector could be a lot more flexible; it could put images anywhere.
Now, for his graduation project at RCA, industrial designer Toni Sokura has rethought what a projector can be. Instead of a box that needs mounts, the Pivot Projector works more like a portable lamp, so that you could carry it around your home, aim it at the nearest wall, and go. The projector can run five hours on a charge, streaming videos via Wi-Fi.
"I find it curious that the design of pico projectors follows the design of large home-cinema projectors so closely, yet they are used in a completely different manner," says Sokura. "This one a something from the middle. Not quite a home-cinema, but something you might stream Netflix from, or give a presentation."
Sokura worked on the project for six months, dissecting a number of off-the-shelf projectors, and meeting with projector technicians to learn about the internal electronics and mechanics. What he developed is a Frankensteinian projector of his own, slipped inside an aluminum body that operates like a giant heatsink, cooling the 1000 lumens of LEDs (which is respectable for a full-sized projector) along with an onboard fan. It’s the sort of custom electronics work that you rarely see in bespoke form, because it’s not 3-D printed in plastic and fit with a universal Raspberry Pi chipset.
"Since most of the parts are cylindrical, it was actually quite easy to get successive prototypes made on a lathe," says Sokura. "Some of the more complex parts, the hinge for example, were CNC'd in China. The one-off manufacturing capabilities there are far more accessible to students than London-based outfits."
The real cleverness, though, is in the sheer usability of the form. The most similar product we’ve spotted to the Pivot Projector is currently sold by the MoMA Store, yet it’s not built to be portable, nor does it have a neck that you can angle as easily as a desk lamp.
Furthermore, Sokura has developed software to support the hardware. Any way you angle it against the wall might distort the projected image. But on the Pivot Projector, a gyroscope measures these angles and software fixes any image distortion.
It all adds up to the sort of end-to-end product innovation that Sokura believes would be lost in a larger team.
"This is quite a classic example of thinking that can only happen in a student's project," he says. "I've worked in design consultancies and large companies before. The fact that it was possible for a designer to delve so deep into hardware and software, and work through a series of prototypes instead of renderings, is something that I can see happening in only a handful of companies at the moment."
The Pivot Project currently exists only in a series of two prototypes. Sokura is looking for engineering partners to help polish it for market.