We all remember the famous scene. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” A flickery hologram of Princess Leia pleaded with the old Jedi on the planet Tatooine to come and rescue her, having hidden a secret message inside R2D2. While 3D hologram technology like Leia’s message in Star Wars has always been confined to the realms of science fiction, it may soon be making the leap from a galaxy far, far away, straight into your living room, thanks to Burton Inc.
The Japan based technology firm have developed a system capable of creating real 3D images in thin air, without using screens. This technology could pave the way for full 3D video calls, where a 3D hologram of the person would appear right in front of you, as if they are in the room.
Working in association with The National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) and Keio University, Burton have created Aerial 3D, a technology that uses lasers to project three-dimensional moving images in air or water, as an AIST spokesperson explains, “the device we have developed utilizes the plasma emission phenomenon near the focal point of focused laser light.”
While other 3D technologies rely on screens and glasses, Aerial 3D uses lasers to project onto the air in front of you, creating moving shapes that are really three dimensional. The powerful lasers are focused onto points in the air, which superheats the air to create plasma, which emits light so that we can see it in front of us, meaning no more screens.
3D viewing has been the dream of film-makers and the viewing public alike since the arrival of motion pictures around the dawn of the 20th century. There have been various attempts at 3D films across the years, but all of these have been based on stereoscopy – providing slightly offset images to the left and the right eye to create the illusion of depth.
“Most current 3D devices project pictures onto a 2D screen, and make the pictures 3D through an optical illusion. But this device actually shows images in mid-air, so a feature of this system is that it enables 3D objects to be viewed naturally,” says Hayato Watanabe, engineer at Burton.
Currently the frame rate is 10-15 per second, but Burton have plans to increase this to 24-30 per second, the same rate as films and television, making it appear completely smooth to the human eye. They also say that a colour display could be achieved using a combination of red, green and blue lasers.
Burton have said its possible uses include digital signs in the air, as well as analysing 3D objects, but clearly the applications are much more far reaching, especially in combination with 3D image capture technology such as Kinect, which can also be used for gestural manipulation of 3D objects, just to check something over before printing it in 3D for example. Imagine this in the hands of David Attenborough, enabling 3D models of the tiniest to the most massive life forms on earth, available for exploration by the home viewer.
The technology is in its early stages, and it may be a long time before we have 3D films and holograms in our living rooms. However, even at this early stage it is obvious this technology could revolutionise communication and entertainment, with the ability to have a fully immersive filmic experience, or a video game that literally takes place all around you.
This is the first attempt at a truly 3D display with no screens, no wires, and no glasses. It makes those flickery holograms from Star Wars that seemed so far in the future a reality – the force is strong with this one.