Think of hologram displays as the next step in making digital content more human-compatible. We’ve been promised holograms for a long time. From to The Avengers to Star Wars, pop culture is littered with these ghostly, three-dimensional projections, predicting a sci-fi future filled with holograms on every corner. Holograms are one of the typical “future-gadgets” that come to mind when discussing about the future. (Flying cars and Cyborgs being some of the others)
Let us first see how these these holograms would work.
Holography was invented in the 1940s and came into its own in the early 1960s, thanks to the invention of the laser. Unlike other light sources, lasers are able to create powerful, radiant bursts that can effectively freeze a three-dimensional moment in time. Holography captures the moments where light bounces off an object from several perspectives, resulting in a 3-D image.These days real holograms are made by capturing images from multiple cameras and combining them into one. The startup company Evercoast (which has demonstrated its work at Verizon’s 5G Labs) has learned how to create a 3-D image at a manageable price.
A subject, such as an HR executive about to present corporate training or a prospective customer trying on a dress, steps in the middle of a depth-sensing camera rig. For a very high quality image, there may be as many as 30 cameras used, but often less than half that number are needed. The subject (or object) is showered with infrared light and the resulting visual and color data are relayed to a software that reconstructs it into a 3-D model.
Nowadays, the basic idea is to use high powered lasers and plasma. As LASER tech progresses, we can see it merging with plasma and becoming the norm, shattering the existing preconceptions.
But the question stands, how far have we come in the field of holography? It sure must be filled with hundreds of patents and small breakthroughs which are leading towards something big, right?
Well, as it stands today, the reality is that holograms are just super difficult to make. So much so that tech companies aren’t the ones leading the pack in their creation; it’s scientists and researchers that are taking the lead. As of now, the biggest claim of something resembling a successful step towards holography comes from the labs of Korea. In 2015, Korean researchers claimed that they had developed the world’s first truly holographic image: a Rubik’s cube.
Then, just a few days later, researchers at BYU also claimed to have developed something in the holographic realm. By trapping particles and reflecting light off of them, they’ve created “volumetric images,” that is images that take up three dimensional space. This is different from the Rubik’s cube hologram, as it is the first hologram that you can actually interact with.
In the field of medicine, holographic bodies can provide powerful learning tools for students and first responders. Holographic organ scans can minimize the damage done from invasive diagnostic procedures. Airlines and shipping companies can use holographic scanning to efficiently load planes and trucks, making the job of a shipping manager easier.
There is a thing called volumetric displays, these are displays that create not flat images, but images that appear to have some depth or volume (hence the name). They do this for example by rotating a clear piece of material and then projecting onto it. You can then walk around the display and see the image from all angles at the same time (or even more than one viewers can do this).
This video also proposes a type of holographic display. You can get 3D shapes hanging in ordinary air with that technique, but the fundamental principle behind how it works makes it insanely inefficient for displays. And kind of dangerous – usually with this technique you’d end up with a lot of high energy photons along with the visible light, as well as continuous ionization of the air.
Then there was also the HelioDisplay.
It was invented by Mr. Dyner, who built it as a five-inch interactive prototype in 2000-2001 before patenting the free-space display technology. The original system used a CMOS camera and IR laser to track the position of a finger in mid-air and update the projected image to enable the first of its kind co-located display with mid-air controller interface.
The Heliodisplay is an air-based display using principally air that is already present in the operating environment (room or space). It uses a projection unit focused onto multiple layers of air and dry micron-size atomized particles in mid-air, resulting in a two-dimensional display that appears to float (3d when using 3d content). This is similar in principle to the cinematic technique of rear projection and can appear three-dimensional when using appropriate content. As dark areas of the image may appear invisible, the image may be more realistic than on a projection screen, although it is still not volumetric. However, the system does allow for multiple viewing and dual viewing (back and front) when combined with two light sources. The necessity of an oblique viewing angle +/- 30 degrees may be required for various configurations due to the rear-projection requirement.
It sounded futuristic, and it certainly was ambitious, but it stalled on itself because of not catering to the masses or industries, it ultimately failed to gather popularity.
As compelling as it may sound, none of these are the glorious holograms we’ve seen in movies, but they do indeed push the limits further and further.
The technology is increasingly becoming ubiquitous, and companies are racing to win market domination. A competitor to the HoloLens, the “Lightware” headset from secretive Magic Leap, has been in the news lately, after six years of development at a cost of $2 billion, for two reasons.
The first is that the company unveiled the “Creator Edition” of the headset in December. The prototypes are obviously not what they were aiming for. Holograms will dramatically improve training, design and visualization in enterprises. The ability to look at, zoom in on and manipulate 3D versions of in-progress designs radically enhances the design process.
And, of course, in the marketing department, holograms will thrill customers with experiential marketing campaigns and customer experience interactions.
Currently, you can get the illusion of a 3D hologram by using any number of smartphone apps created with Apple’s ARKit or Google’s ARCore. These don’t create 3D holograms — they create a video of a hologram. They combine real-time video feeds with digital objects and create the illusion of being 3D.
There are a plethora of uses for holograms in all kinds of fields. It is expected that the hologram market will be one of the biggest markets in the coming century, if ever it is put into reality. From medical to military to industrial, there isn’t a place where mapping stuff in 3 dimensions wouldn’t be useful.
So, the big question is, are holograms possible? Like, in their full-fledged, Sci-Fi glory?
The answer, as always, is not straightforward and clear-cut. Right now, according to the rules of physics that we have uncovered, they don’t seem to be, BUT we are still working on a definite theory about how light and particularly the photons truly behave. I think the general perception of an ideal hologram is one floating in ordinary air, that you can walk 360° around, and that’s not any time soon, mainly because of the ‘air’ part. So it might entirely be possible with the technologies of 2121, but in 2021, we can get as far as our limits allow us to.