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A digital shoe appears on the left side of Adobe's transparent display prototype, with a real sneaker in a light box in the background. Photo: Adobe

Researchers at Adobe have developed a new type of transparent display that allows virtual images and video to appear convincingly next to real objects.

Why it matters: Glasses offer one way to bring together the digital and physical worlds, but that approach requires each person viewing to have a headset on, while this approach would allow the same effect to be shown to many people at once, which would be more useful for retail and other settings.

The company plans to detail the effort, known as Project Glasswing, at the Siggraph conference next week, but gave Axios a sneak peek at company HQ on Thursday.

Traditional LCD displays can be transparent, but only by removing the backlight, which makes them dim and unable to truly overlay an object behind them.

How it works: Adobe's approach combines a transparent LCD layer with the kind of technology used in smart glass that quickly shifts between total opacity or full translucency.

The cash register-size unit contains a standard PC along with the two display technologies, plus a touch-screen layer, that sit in front of a light box that can hold the real-world objects.

The resulting screen is like a Photoshop image with layers: The digital part is the top layer that sits in front of whatever real objects are behind the glass inside the light box.

Glasswing in action

Importantly for Adobe, the content for Glasswing's display can be easily created from existing Adobe apps like Photoshop, After Effects or Premiere Pro.

The effort took a five-person research team about a year and the materials cost several thousand dollars, with most of the money going towards the smart glass and controller, which had to be custom ordered from Latvia at a cost of around $4,000. But, if produced in volume, the technology could be made much cheaper,

"It’s not an exotic device that’s intrinsically expensive," Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis said in an interview.

The bigger picture: Parasnis said Adobe is looking at a number of ways to bring the digital and physical worlds closer together for content creators. While Glasswing is a research project, two other efforts are expected to be made available as products later this year.

  • Aero is a means to allow people to easily turn Photoshop and Dimension content into augmented reality objects.
  • Fresco aims to create a digital canvas that more closely resembles a real-world surface with the ability to add liquid or even wind to a digital watercolor.

What's next: Adobe isn't looking to get into the monitor-making business, but hopes the effort will help convince display manufacturers that the idea is worth pursuing.

In the long term, Parasnis believes the approach could be used on giant pieces of glass to allow entire workplace walls or windows to alternate between acting as a giant display or a transparent surface.To really get a feel for how Glasswing works, it's best to see it in action. Check out this video.

Go deeper

58 mins ago - World

HRW: Over 100 former Afghan security members dead or missing under Taliban rule

Members of the Taliban movement patrol Kabul's airport in September. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

The Taliban have "killed or forcibly disappeared" over 100 former members of Afghanistan's security forces since the group took power in August, a Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday found.

Why it matters: It means former military members and officials from the ousted government, activists and other Taliban critics are facing peril amid executions driven by revenge — despite Taliban promises of an "amnesty" with no retributions, notes the New York Times, which first reported the news.

2 hours ago - World

Barbados becomes a republic, replacing U.K. queen with president

Combination images of Dame Sandra Mason, president of Barbados, and Britain's Prince Charles at her swearing-in ceremony in Bridgetown, Barbados, late Monday.

Barbados officially became a republic at midnight local time after Dame Sandra Mason was sworn in as the Caribbean nation's first president in a ceremony attended by the United Kingdom's Prince Charles.

Why it matters: Mason replaced Britain's Queen Elizabeth as head of state Tuesday — removing the country's final remaining colonial tie to the U.K. almost 400 years after the first British ships arrived in Barbados.

Right-wingers making McCarthy sweat for future Speaker post

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy stands with his Republican colleagues outside the House on Nov. 17. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Right-wing elements in the Republican Party are complicating House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's attempts to become the next speaker of the House should the GOP take back the majority in 2022.

Why it matters: While McCarthy has worked carefully to build trust among the conservatives who tanked his chances at clinching the speakership in 2015, they're still circling ahead of the next Speaker vote in January 2023.