In 2012, Narendra Modi – a leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister of Gujarat – added his name to the Guinness World Records when Bollywood film director Mani Shankar and his associate Raj Kasu leveraged holographic projection systems from UK-based Musion to enable Modi’s 3D avatar to “appear” simultaneously at 53 public rallies during Gujarat’s Legislative Assembly elections. Two years later, Modi became India’s prime minister after using the same technology to project his image at up to 126 sites simultaneously, allowing him to address 100 million voters at approximately 3,500 events in 1,500 locations in 45 days.
Like most holographic projection technology to date, Musion’s systems are a modern version of Pepper’s Ghost, a 19th-century theatrical trick that beams a person’s image onto a hidden reflective surface, creating the illusion of a ghost onstage. But new developments are now moving the technology into the 21st century, creating realistic 3D holograms that allow people to interact, learn and even market products.
“Augmented reality (AR) experiences where people can control and interact with a layer of digital information over the physical world are becoming increasingly popular,” said Martin Richardson, who gained the world’s first doctoral degree in display holography in 1988 and is now professor of Modern Holography at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester, UK.
“Although true 3D holograms are created by the interference of light beams from a coherent light source, physics laws restrict us from focusing light into thin air,” Richardson said. “Consequently, modern holographic solutions tend to combine AR with Pepper’s Ghost to produce what we deem as 3D holograms.”
MORE THAN A GIMMICK
With all forms of immersive virtuality (iV) – including augmented, mixed and virtual reality – finding applications in a wide variety of settings, companies worldwide are developing holographic displays that could fundamentally change how humans work, learn and interact.
Microsoft, for example, has developed the head-worn Microsoft HoloLens, which it describes as the world’s first self-contained holographic computer. “HoloLens leverages mixed reality so users see holograms pinned to specific physical locations or objects in their surrounding environment,” Microsoft HoloLens general manager Lorraine Bardeen said. “They can also interact with holograms using voice and hand gestures, as they would with real objects. HoloLens will be available in eight markets by December 2016 and has many exciting use cases.”
Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Cleveland Clinic, for instance, will use HoloLens to teach anatomy at their joint Health Education Campus when it opens in Cleveland, Ohio, in mid-2019. “With HoloLens, the students and the professor can all look at the same holographic image of the body and, at the same time, still see each other, even if the professor is in a different city,” said Mark Griswold, faculty lead for CWRU’s HoloLens work and Director of the Interactive Commons, a CWRU initiative that uses imagery to drive research and learning innovations. “In terms of the hologram itself, students can see an organ in three dimensions, from all sides, and all of the shapes and pathways inside it,” Griswold said. “In addition, the faculty member can present different conditions – for example, a tumor inside the brain, or fluid in a lung or a blocked artery
leading to the heart.”
“HOLOGRAMS ARE THE ONLY AUGMENTED REALITY SOLUTION THAT CAN BE USED BY GROUPS, SO THEY’RE A WOW FACTOR.”
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, VNTANA
The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has collaborated with Microsoft to develop several HoloLens-based applications. ProtoSpace enables engineers to design space equipment using full-scale holographic visualizations rather than computer-aided designs. With Sidekick, astronauts on the International Space Station are able to access a “holographic instruction manual” and work in tandem with experts on Earth when completing complex tasks. A third project, OnSight, enables Earth-based scientists to virtually walk around and explore Mars using images and data
taken by the Curiosity Mars Rover.
“Our studies show dramatic improvements in scientists’ understanding of a scene and spacecraft design when they view it
via a head-mounted display instead of a computer screen,” said Jeff Norris, Mission Operations innovation lead at NASA JPL. “Feedback has been very positive because holographic visualizations engage humans’ innate ability to explore, allowing them to investigate Mars in a similar way to Earth. We’re only scratching the surface of what is possible with mixed reality in space.”
A BIGGER PICTURE
While most holographic systems require users to wear specialized headgear to view 3D projections, companies such as Texas-based FoVI 3D are creating displays that can be seen by many people at the same time.
“FoVI 3D’s We-R (We-Reality) holographic light-field display (LFD) tables create 3D projections that can be viewed by multiple people simultaneously, making it perfect for real-time collaboration,” said Mike Masters, FoVI’s chief marketing officer. “The government, oil and gas, entertainment and health care sectors will be the biggest beneficiaries.
For example, a clinical team could collaboratively analyze a hologram of a patient’s heart and develop a comprehensive surgical plan or visualize blood flow.” Ashley Crowder, CEO of California-based holographic solutions developer VNTANA, agrees. “Holograms are the only AR solution that can be used by groups, so they’re a wow factor that will drastically change the way humans interact,” she said. “Our scalable and interactive holographic VNTANA solution helps brands advertise products and services and attract customers in public spaces such as movie theaters, retail stores, trade shows and sports events. VNTANA also simultaneously collects customer data and integrates with social media, allowing brands to generate leads and perpetuate their image on social media via user-generated content.”
Many businesses are seeking scalable AR and interactive holographic solutions, Crowder said. “Our clients are investing in both one-off experiential events and also long-term leases for more permanent installations at museums, stadiums and more.”
Companies also are exploring more portable holographic displays. London-based Kino-mo, for example, has developed a plug-and-play Holo Display that uploads an image from a smartphone and instantly projects it in 3D. The projections can be seen with the naked eye and have been successfully tested at 20 UK locations, including bars, nightclubs, shopping malls and casinos.
“Surveys revealed that Holo Display was astonishingly effective at attracting customers’ attention, boosting sales and making brands or venues appear innovative,” said Art Stavenka, Kino-mo’s co-founder, adding that the trials have prompted multiple preorders from major brands and venues. “In the future, people will be able to use hand gestures to interact with 3D objects on Kino-mo Holo Display, stream real-time videos or social media posts in midair, and scan physical objects and instantly project them as a holograph.”
“WITH HOLOLENS, THE STUDENTS AND THE PROFESSOR CAN ALL LOOK AT THE SAME HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGE OF THE
BODY AND, AT THE SAME TIME, STILL SEE EACH OTHER, EVEN IF THE PROFESSOR IS IN A DIFFERENT CITY.”
DIRECTOR OF THE INTERACTIVE COMMONS, CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIVERSITY
True 3D Display is another technology developed by Aerial Burton, a company based in Kawasaki City, Japan, which claims to be the first to create holograms by shooting a 1KHz infrared pulse laser into a 3D scanner. The scanner reflects and focuses the pulses on predetermined points in midair, without bouncing them off glass, smoke or water. The molecules then ionize into pulsing plasma dots to form the hologram.
As the hologram is three dimensional, the image looks different when viewed from different angles.
“Our portable device can instantly project any image or written message to a mass audience, making it ideal for use in large-scale emergencies,” said Hidei Kimura, founder and CEO of Burton Inc., which holds the patent. “We draw arrows directing people to safe areas or write floating warning signs. We’re developing the system so people can use smartphones to capture real-time information from midair QR codes.”
A PHOTONICS FUTURE?
Although researchers are yet to fully understand and exploit the potential of holography, DMU’s Richardson predicts it will gain significant commercial traction in the next 10-20 years. “Photonics will bring a huge infrastructural change, where lasers and individual photons of light will be used to send information, making it even easier to access the rich data needed for true holography,” he said. “Initially it’ll transform commercial sectors such as health care, architecture and engineering, but it will become cheap enough for consumer use. We may eventually have smartphones that can record events using real-time holography.” ◆