Geo Week News

May 11, 2012

Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi

The display, the display, the display. How much is the display holding back the 3D data capture market? How much of a problem is it that, even with those silly glasses, it’s still often hard to wrap your head around 3D data being shown to you on a flat screen? And could we be nearing a time when that problem goes away?

After catching the video on Holoxica’s web site, demonstrating a prototype of a 3D holographic display, I’m beginning to think that we are, indeed. It may not be long at all before that famous scene where R2D2 pulls up a hologram of Princess Leia begging for Obi-Wan’s help isn’t really science fiction at all. 

Check it out:


Okay, no, the four numbers cycling through aren’t particularly inspiring, and 2D video inevitably does a poor job of showing you something that’s in 3D, but the text that accompanies the video starts to get the mind racing:

The display is based on holograms at its heart where a fixed number of different holograms are sampled and interwoven into the holographic screen. Any of the pre-configured images can be selected in any order to make “flip motion” 3D animation giving the impression of motion. The resulting 3D image is suspended in mid-air and can change in real time.

The holographic screen currently embeds up to nine images but this can easily be scaled up. The next step is to go up to sixteen followed by twenty-five where it is possible to get a second of full-3D video. Colour is also limited at the moment but this can be extended in future to give full colour images by combining red, green and blue light sources.

That doesn’t sound like they’re all that far away. Aside from the cool factor, would this have the potential to change workflows? 

I wrote last year about the first level of holograms, those that are printed on flat surfaces, but seem to jump off the page. Zebra Imaging has very much commercialized this idea, as has Holoxica. There’s a big difference between walking someone through a display via a piece of software on a computer screen and something like the holographic printouts that people can move around and walk around and feel like they’re experiencing in an entirely different way. 

Could something even more profound be possible with projected holograms? Zebra was also working on a projected image the last time I spoke with them, something like a table that would project an image up and that you could even potentially edit in the space above the table.

Which would be amazing. 

Already, holograms are starting to infiltrate the everyday world. Holoxica has a nice case study on how it helped out with the National Museum of Scotland’s “Fascinating Mummies” exhibition, which runs through May 27, and you can catching a glimpse of what they’ve produced here:


Similarly, Army Times has a great article on how soldiers are using Zebra’s technology. Here’s the money quote:

“3-D is on everyone’s mind right now,” said Rick Black, a retired chief warrant officer 4 who is director of defense/intelligence programs for Zebra Imaging. But the 3-D on TV and in movies tricks your mind; viewers need glasses to see the 3-D effects, he said.

The holograms made by Zebra for the Army are full parallax 3-D — which means viewers don’t need 3-D glasses to view the image, and “if I point to something on the map, everyone can see what you’re pointing at, regardless of their angle or point of view or where they’re standing,” he said.

But that’s pretty old hat at this point, really. The Army has already printed out some 12,000 of them, since 2004. And they can see the future, too:

“The extension of this is the real-time 3-D/2-D display, enabling real-time sets to be fed into display and used in real time,” Schnurr said. “This is true breakthrough technology.”

Help us, Zebra and Holoxica. You’re our only hopes.

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