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A key challenge for the fiber-based systems will be keeping manufacturing costs down. In the past, researchers have typically tried to make such devices purely out of silicon to take advantage of inexpensive manufacturing.

Adding carbon fibers to the mix could increase costs. With this in mind, Thompson and Shayaan Desai, a doctoral student at Cornell who was key to creating the device, developed a manufacturing method that uses traditional silicon fabrication until the final steps, introducing the carbon fibers only at the end of the process.

Still, the process is not yet reliable enough for large-scale manufacturing. (In the demonstration system they placed the fibers manually). Wu says success will depend on how much new infrastructure manufacturers have to install to incorporate the fibers.

Thompson says a prototype projector should be ready within a year, with commercial products, developed by their startup, Mesmeriz, in Ithaca, NY, likely possible in three to five years.

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