Anyone old enough to have watched Star Wars (when it first came out in 1977) probably has that visual of R2D2 projecting a three dimensional Princess Leia etched on their brain. It was a wonderful execution of something seemingly impossible for the time. How do you project light into thin air at a single point in space? It’s been a point of fascination through the ages which dates long before Star Wars. The first genuine attempt at portraying ‘something that isn’t really there’ dates back to 1584; you’ve probably experienced the same peppers ghost illusion in amusement parlours, museums or theme parks.
Today we have several quite different, viable and interesting methods that seek to bring forms of holography into our daily lives. I’ll broadly classify them in three groups to make things a bit clearer: Augmented holographic displays; Nanophotonic Holographic Displays; Illusionary Holographic displays.
With regards to holography it’s important not to confuse this with the type of 3D we see at the cinema, the Nintendo 3DS, or those old 3D rulers which use Polarised light, Autostereoscopy and lenticular displays to trick the eye into perceiving 3D. In terms of display technology, holographic and volumetric displays appear to give an object mass (so you feel like you can reach out/in and hold it) whereas a 3D image merely produces the illusion of depth for a purely two dimensional image.
Let’s break it down:
1) Nanophotonic Holographic Displays.
In layman’s terms this is the science used to manipulate light to achieve moving, full colour holograms. Firstly a bit of a history. The most important thing to understand upfront is that in the last fifteen years, the emergence of legitimate metamaterials have provided new opportunities to the scientific and technology industries. Meta in greek means ‘beyond’, and a meta-material is defined as a substance with properties not seen in nature. There’s always been plenty of buzz about metamaterials and sci-fi stuff like invisiblity cloaks in particular. Fairly recently discovered meta-materials like Graphene (2002) and Cadmium Arsenide (2014) will pave the way for new products and processes that were previously impossible because of their unique ability to manipulate electromagnetic wavelengths, as well as various other physical properties including superconductivity, weight and strength. Graphene being a form of carbon means the raw materials are found abundantly. Simply put, metamaterials are man made substances capable of very exciting things.
Nanophotonic devices seek to play with light at the source rather than trick the eye itself using any ‘middleware’. Part of the problem with traditional holograms is that they are ‘read only’ meaning only one frame was visible for each viewing angle and once written, cannot change. Some traditional holograms offer the perception of movement by providing a different frame containing a lapsed motion for each viewing angle but they really are no different to a standard hologram. A prototype technology created in Australia was released in white paper form this week, and there are several other academic institutions with their own processes in the US, Singapore. The proposed generation of holographic images from Griffith University uses graphene oxides and laser pulses to control the refractive index/wavelength of light giving the added benefit of colour reproduction as well as removing the ‘read only’ issue. It’s still early days for this technology, but offers promise. Several scientists involved in other similar projects believe viable consumer technology may be as close as 2023.
– No middleware (glasses)
– Potentially scalable to any size (imagine a whole room where every wall is a hologram)
– Viewable by many people at the same time
– Potentially interactive when converged with other technology.
– Limited to the screen it resides in. ie; Doesn’t project in mid air quite like like r2d2 did.
– Limited viewing angles (50 degrees)
– Ten years to wait (or more)
2) Augmented holographic displays
It’s not strictly holography but it’s a reasonable analogy. Calling it augmented reality is also a bit of an injustice, I think it is more akin to “reality, augmented” (if that makes sense). Augmented holographic displays are the results of the convergence of smaller and more powerful processing and display technology to insert 3D images into your surroundings as if they are real objects. Hololens by Microsoft, and MagicLeap use clear glasses onto which computer generated 3D images are mapped/projected providing the wearer the experience of virtual objects which they can walk around and control. This is different to Google Glass which essentially provided a HUD (Heads Up Display) in one visible area to pass information. These also differ from virtual reality systems like SteamVR, Samsung Gear and Oculus which lock the user into a fully enclosed virtual environment. The exciting thing about this is it will be available in 2015. Whilst it’s not a hologram, and only the wearer(s) of the device can see anything, creating the illusion of that famous R2D2 scene is easily possible with this tech.
– 360 degree experience
– Multiple users can experience the same thing
– Not cut off from the world like VR systems
– Many applications
– Customisable to your environment
– You need glasses.
– Resolution, speed, mapping still has some way to go before it feels ‘real’.
– Still niche.
– Dorky looking (sorry Microsoft, but not cool looking yet)
List of ‘Smart Glass’ manufacturers:
– Atheer Labs : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0onzbGNJIQ
– Epson Moverio : http://www.epson.com/cgi-bin/Store/jsp/Landing/moverio-bt-200-smart-glasses.do?ref=van_moverio_2014
– Vuzix : http://www.vuzix.com/smart-glasses/
– Xoeye: http://www.xoeye.com/
– Sony SmartEyeglass: https://developer.sony.com/develop/wearables/smarteyeglass-sdk/
3) Illusionary Holographic Displays:
My final category is something of a random bag and includes efforts past and present: Some of these you can classify as being a volumetric display. Others have close to the appearance of a hologram, but are not. The other thing all these have in common is that none of these examples require glasses. I’m not going to go into each one, have a look for yourself and decide what you think. Some are very cool if not strictly speaking holography. I’ve also included a couple of 3D Haptic feedback examples to illustrate how displays can go beyond stimulating just the visual sense.
Find any others worth sharing please leave a comment 🙂