Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holograms are becoming tangible

Holograms, staple of Star Trek, Star Wars and innumerable other science fiction universes, are creeping closer to reality.

Holographic image of an F-4 Phantom fighter. Credit: University of Arizona

The National Science Foundation announced Wednesday researchers at the University of Arizona have produced holographic video images able to be refreshed every two seconds. That still seems crude and primitive (think Captain Pike in his silly prop hospital chair in the original Star Trek series), but it remains the tantalizing stuff of make-believe to Earth-based mortals.

“This advance brings us a step closer to the ultimate goal of realistic holographic telepresence with high-resolution, full-color, human-size, 3D images that can be sent at video refresh rates from one part of the world to the other,” said project lead Nasser Peyghambarian in the foundation announcement.

Some applications of holograms being talked about are disappointingly mundane, if that’s even possible when we’re envisioning actual holograms. You have, for example, meeting attendees from other cities “beaming in” to a central conference room. Also: Draftsmen and engineers designing things with holo-helpers. Hokey examples include Japanese researchers playing with a holographic ball, and CNN’s faux holograms on the set of the 2008 presidential election night coverage.

If hologram technology ever reaches practical feasibility, the possibilities are unlimited. The boss could pop in at your workstation to check on a project or chew you out. Mom might zap into the back yard to call the kids in for dinner. NFL referees could review disputed plays without wasting all that time in those ridiculous hooded replay booths. Video-game opponents could spring to life in your game room, necessitating a quick melee response if you want to survive. Military planners doubtless would be in ecstasy.

I always thought the Star Trek Next Generation holodeck was beyond cool. Obi-Wan Kinobi’s hologram shimmering out of R2-D2 enraptured Star Wars fans. Now we can dare to imagine the prospect of the science fiction come to life.