The Next Dimension

November 5, 2010

Rheanna Sand

Science in Seconds Blog by Rheanna Sand

With my lightsaber and Jedi robes, this Halloween I defended the Rebel Alliance against the evil Galactic Empire with the help of Princess Leia, who faithfully acted out her hologram scene throughout the night: "Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope."

Well, if Leia were here now, she could actually send that holographic message. That is, if she were friends with Nasser Peyghambarian at the University of Arizona. He and his colleagues have developed a new technique for three-dimensional telepresence, or transmitting moving holograms from one location to another in near real-time.

ResearchBlogging.orgAs they explain in their paper, published in the November 4th issue of Nature, this technology is quite different from that used in the 3D movies and TVs - which use polarized light to trick your brain - and is not the cheesy digital image fusion used by CNN in their election night coverage. Holograms are much more awesome in that they reproduce the light intensity and wave front, which makes objects appear like they would if real light were bouncing off them.

Holograms can be computer generated, and have been since the 1960's, but the vast amount of visual information has limited the size and resolution of displays. A technique called stereographic holography eases the data load, and unlike other forms of stereoscopy, does not require the observer to wear silly glasses to see the 3D effect. The group decided to go this route.

The other advance made was in the display material, a photorefractive polymer that is capable of being updated to create a moving image. The previous material, inorganic crystal, was not suitable for large screens and couldn't be easily updated. Plus, it would have looked really tacky next to your iPad.

Though some object to the term "telepresence" with something a few inches wide with a 2-second delay, there is no doubt that this technology is frickin' cool. Of course they say the best uses will be in medicine and the military, but we saw how well that went with the internet. Just imagine, or don't, what Tiger Woods or Brett Favre could do with this kind of messaging. C'mon, you know that's where it'll end up!



P.-A. Blanche, A. Bablumian, R. Voorakaranam, C. Christenson, W. Lin, T. Gu, D. Flores, P. Wang, W.-Y. Hsieh, M. Kathaperumal, B. Rachwal, O. Siddiqui, J. Thomas, R. A. Norwood, M. Yamamoto, & & N. Peyghambarian (2010). Holographic three-dimensional telepresence using large-area photorefractive polymer Nature, 468, 80-83 : 10.1038/nature09521



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