Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have unveiled a new chip which, they hope, will allow smartphones to act as projectors in the near future.

The chip makes use of an optical phased array (OPA) in order to create a projected image from a single laser diode, rather than relying on the light sources, lenses and images required for a more traditional projector set-up.

The new chip also does away with the need for moving parts and just uses electrical signals to alter the coherence of light waves on the surface of the chip, reported The Register.

“The researchers...'bend' the light waves on the surface of the chip without lenses or the use of any mechanical movement. If two waves are coherent in the direction of propagation – meaning that the peaks and troughs of one wave are exactly aligned with those of the second wave – the waves combine, resulting in one wave, a beam with twice the amplitude and four times the energy as the initial wave, moving in the direction of the coherent waves”, a report from the Caltech team said.

The chip – which was displayed at the Optical Fiber Communication conference held in San Francisco earlier this week – is able to control the beam of light by placing a range of electrons in the beam's path, thereby altering the timing of light in the path. “The light is then projected from each array in the grid, the individual array beams combining coherently in the air to form a single light beam and a spot on the screen”, the researchers confirmed.

The group of researchers – led by professor Ali Hajimri – said that, while the OPA is currently only big enough to create simple line images, it is hoped that, in the near future, the resolution of the images that can be created will be able to be improved by scaling up the chips.