Star Trek’s holodeck technology may no longer remain the stuff of fantasy as developments in 3D technology bring us ever closer to life-like holographic images.

Sharp Labs Europe are currently working on a cutting-edge communication technology that they hope will make 3D images indistinguishable from reality. The idea is that in the future we will be able to communicate in a simulated reality, that could give us the option of interacting with each other without leaving our homes.

Crafting the holodeck of the future

Sharp’s 3D expert Jonathan Mather, a research supervisor in the Optical Imaging and Display Systems Group at Sharp Labs, explains to Humans Invent how the ultimate goal is developing 3D images that are as close as possible to reality using holographic technology, a journey that begins with the original concept of 3D – the technology used in current 3D appliances such as glasses 3D and glasses-free 3D on the Nintendo 3DS.

The ultimate goal is to make a holographic display that shows images that are indistinguishable from reality

Mather believes the next step for 3D is to become a natural part of our day-to-day lives.

While some deem 3D technology a gimmick, Mather makes it clear that current 3D developments are part of a bigger picture. The aim is simple – for 3D technology to be as common as making a cup of tea – “the ultimate goal is to make a holographic display and what I mean by that is a display that shows images that are indistinguishable from reality,” Mather says. The initial step, however, will see 3D implemented across multi-platforms.

“I think a sensible target is for 3D displays to become a natural part of modern life,” Mather explains to Humans Invent. “Home cinema systems showing 3D movies, computer games played in an immersive environment and holiday photos presented with depth.

“When I think about what is needed to do this it seems clear that 3D displays must ‘just work’, with no 3D glasses and without any restrictions on head position. Head tracked systems can provide such a solution for tablets and smartphones and multi-view optics can provide it for televisions. The necessary technological components exist, we just need to put them all together and organise television broadcasting standards and so on.

Back to basic physics

“With good 3D displays we will need good 3D pictures. Therefore we can expect 3D cameras to become more prevalent and more advanced. I think in the future when we receive a photograph of a friends new house we can expect to be able to look round it in full 3D rather than be restricted to one viewpoint. I think this type of function will lead to better technology for interacting with 3D images.”

We may have to put together another 40 years of technical progress before we gain the benefits of such a display

Mather explaining the principles behind 3D technology – with the ultimate aim producing an image that is indistinguishable from reality.

Mather is passionate about the future of 3D. Creating images that are indistinguishable from reality could see us interact, work and socialise in a purely simulated reality. In order to achieve this, 3D technology must become a more immersive experience – and it isn’t as far off as you think.

How long will we wait?

“If you were to ask me when we might see this technology I would say that some early efforts already exist, but they are far from fully developed. I might speculate that tablet and smartphone displays should develop rapidly and mature over the next 2 to 6 years, and multi-view television 5 to 15 years.

“The ultimate 3D display is a holographic display. Many people don’t realise but there is one thing missing from today’s stereoscopic 3D displays. Despite the depth that they show, the objects always appear in focus, in a holographic display even the correct focus of the light is recreated to form a perfect replica of the real world. However, this is not without the addition of significant technical complexity. We may have to put together another 40 years of technical progress before we gain the benefits of such a display.”

Who knows, having a holodeck room at home could be something you see during your lifetime.


Photography shot exclusively for Humans Invent by Richard Grassie. For more of his work go to www.richardgrassie.com.

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  • Luke1

    Nice to see the background to the idea of simulated reality. Would love to be spending my afternoons in the lab…unfortunately it is not to be. I think the idea of 3D, what it is and how we use IT will change in the next 20 years. This is the start. Good inside read.

  • Mike C

    Easy solution (with glasses sadly)… cover walls with large 3d tv’s… have them all synched to the glasses.

    Throw in a xbox360 kinetic on each of the 4 walls.

    Have 3d cameras positioned in a front row “seat” during the football match, covering 360 degrees.

    Dial your friend… his sofa appears next to yours, super-imposed over the feed from the 3d cameras, from his kinetic scans (as he has the same setup) and you watch the game together!

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