Wow a 3D Holographic Display?? Microsoft Research has conducted a laboratory scale demonstration of a 3D holographic display that can be viewed by multiple people from any angle and does not require the use of special eyeglasses. Unusually for Microsoft, the announcement and the accompanying video contain very few details of the technology or the planned end applications. From the sparse details seen on the video, the display appears to be based on the mirascope, which is a pair of convex mirrors bonded together with an opening at the top on one of them. Images of an object captured by laser photography are projected into the parabolic mirror cavity. With multiple reflections, the light beams get amplified and emerge from the hole to form a 3D hologram in air. This image can be viewed from any angle, you can poke a finger through it and so on. The only details disclosed by Microsoft is that 3000 images per second are projected at a speed of 15 frames per second. The holographic image, as seen from the video, appears small in size and in black and white.
The human eye sees objects by sensing the light reflected from it. The light reflected from different parts of the object vary and the two eyes perceive the reflected light slightly differently, to create a 3D image in the brain. The use of laser light beams on an object enhances differences in the light reflected. This reflection is recorded and played back to create holographic displays.
An early application of holographic displays has been in the advertising holograms used over the night sky at sports stadia and at entertainment venues such as rock concerts. Holographic advertising displays have also been built into point-of-sale terminals in shopping malls and placed in the lobbies of hotels and other public places. In these, the holographic image is projected on a glass or transparent plastic screen.
In recent years, the emergence of higher resolution cameras and faster computer chips has driven the search for higher definition 3D holographic displays. One of the leaders in this field is Zebra Imaging of Austin, Texas. Their ZScape technology was listed among Time magazine's 50 greatest inventions of 2011. The Zebra Imaging technology works with computer aided design software, with laser scan data and satellite images to capture thousands of "Hogel" ( Holographic image) points that are recorded on a film with a laser beam. When this film is viewed using a halogen or LED lamp, a 3D holographic image appears. This technology has been used at project construction sites to plan movement of lifting cranes, in medical imaging and in defense and security applications. Other products in this field include the RePro3D, from Tachi Labs of Japan.
The Microsoft 3D display technology appears to avoid this intermediate step of recording images on a film for playback by directly using computer images to create the holographic image. If the hologram is created as easily as the video clip suggests, it could drive costs down dramatically.
Possible future applications
Given Microsoft's domination of the office suite software, the possible applications of this new technology would be to create 3D moving images in presentations and other office documentation. It could also change the concept of video conferencing by replacing the 2D image of the participants, with a 3D virtual presence. This technology could quickly make its way into portable electronic devices such as music players, smart phones and tablets. Anyone listening to a piece of music may actually be able to project a holographic image of the singer or play the music CD as an image in air in front of him. This technology could also be deployed in the GPS devices used as map displays in cars to project a 3D virtual image of the route in place of a 2D map.
It would be fascinating to see what Microsoft and the others do with this technology in the coming few years.