Mastery of light is a staple of science fiction, from photon torpedos to lightsabers to holograms. This latest technology brings the latter and thus a representation of the formers to reality: Scientists have a way of making hologram appear out of thin air.
As published in Scientific Reports, the team uses a so-called optical trap display. A particle is trapped in the air and moved to contour a shape. As the particle hovers across, the path is illuminated by visible laser light, forming an image. Given the flicker rate of the eye, the image has to be redrawn about 10 times a second – so for now, these images are tiny. But Yoda is right in saying that size matters not, because these images are awesome even if small.
"Most 3D displays require you to look at a screen, but our technology allows us to create images floating in space – and they're physical; not some mirage," lead co-author Dan Smalley, from Brigham Young University, said in a statement. "This technology can make it possible to create vibrant animated content that orbits around or crawls on or explodes out of every day physical objects."
The team created a miniature visualization of Yoda and Darth Vader with, respectively, a green lightsaber and a red lightsaber forming in front of them. A battle that has not happened in canon, but that doesn’t diminish how an actual hologram of that would look.
There are also miniatures of the Enterprise and a Klingon Bird-of-Prey exchanging fire, with the hologram not only tracing the path of the photon torpedoes but also drawing little explosions. They also show a little stick figure walking on the fingertip of one of the students involved in the work. While the technology is still growing, there is plenty of reasons to be excited.
"What you're seeing in the scenes we create is real; there is nothing computer generated about them," Smalley explained. "This is not like the movies, where the lightsabers or the photon torpedoes never really existed in physical space. These are real, and if you look at them from any angle, you will see them existing in that space."
The team also started using clever optical tricks to go beyond the physical limitation of the display. For example, they can make an object appear like it is much further away than it actually is.
"We can play some fancy tricks with motion parallax and we can make the display look a lot bigger than it physically is," added co-lead author Wesley Rogers. "This methodology would allow us to create the illusion of a much deeper display up to theoretically an infinite size display."
The age of holograms is truly here.