of Arizona
A refreshable, holographic image of an F-4 Phantom jet.
updated 11/3/2010 6:23:17 PM ET 2010-11-03T22:23:17

If you think FaceTime on the new iPhone is cool, you probably can't wait for the age of holo-chat. A new holographic technology being developed at the University of Arizona could eventually let us interact with lifelike images of friends living across the globe.

Arizona researchers have made their first demonstration of a holographic display that projects 3-D images from another location in near-real time. The images are static, but they are refreshed every two seconds, creating a strobe-like effect of movement.The researchers hope to improve the new technology over the next few years to bring higher resolution and faster image streaming.

"What we have come up with is a new technique to build three-dimensional telepresence, which means that we can take objects from one location and show them in another location in 3-D in near-real time," said Nasser Peyghambarian, a professor of optical sciences who co-authored the report on the Arizona team's findings.

So far, the Arizona team has tested out a holographic display of about 10 by 10 inches, showing lifelike images of researchers in a separate lab.

The researchers built a similar system two years ago that could update images every four to five minutes.

Potential applications for this technology straight out of "Star Wars" include 3-D video conferencing, medical and military imaging, and updatable 3-D maps. The real goal, however, is to replace all 2-D screens used in everyday life with the system, said lead study author Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, an assistant research professor in optical sciences.

Holography records the light scattered from objects and uses it to reconstruct a picture of these objects. It is the most lifelike 3-D rendition of objects, because it uses the same technique as our eyes to visualize our surroundings.

For now, though,the holograms are static, like those on driver's licenses that refract light to create a 3-D image. Also, the image colors are not true to life, but rather appear in varying tones of green or red.

At the heart of the technology is a new plastic material where the image gets displayed. This polymer can be refreshed very quickly, so the image is constantly updated.

"It is like having a frame instead of a TV in your living room," Blanche told TechNewsDaily. "We are using a new type of polymer called photorefractive that can record, erase and be rewritten many times."

To deliver images to the photorefractive polymer, 16 cameras take simultaneous pictures of a real scene every second. These images are combined into a package of data and sent via the Internet to the holographic system. Each package of data is encoded into special lasers, which pattern hogels (holographic pixels) onto the polymer, creating the 3-D image in the other location. These hogels are updated continuously.

The setup allows a person to view the hologram at 16 different angles, so as you shift to the left or the right or move your head up or down,the perspectives changes just as in real life.

The researchers are continuing their work on the technology, hoping to give it, among other things, life-size display capability.

"It won't come to our living room [by this] Christmas," Blanche said."But we can have systems ready for hospitals or command-and-control operation rooms in the near future — let's say a couple of years."

The researchers detail their findings in the Nov. 4 issue of the journal Nature.

© 2012 TechNewsDaily

Explainer: 10 pieces of Star Trek tech

  • Paramount Pictures

    The latest reboot of the Star Trek franchise follows the story of a young James Kirk on his way to becoming captain of the Starship Enterprise. The movie gives Trekkies a fresh dose of fictional high-tech wizardry. But is any of this possible in the real world? Click the "Next" arrow above to see how 10 pieces of Trek tech, from teleportation to warp drive, are faring here on Earth.

    -- By John Roach, MSNBC contributor

  • Teleportation: a work in progress

    Ray Strange  /  AFP via Getty Images file

    "Beam me up, Scotty!" Oh, how easy travel would be if the technology existed to disintegrate our bodies in one place and nearly instantaneously make them reappear at our destination. Unfortunately, that kind of teleportation remains firmly fixed in the realm of Star Trek fiction. However, scientists are meeting with some success as they try to teleport messages encoded in beams of light across table-length distances, such as this experiment from 2002. More recent advances include teleporting information from one trapped atom to another.

  • Tricorder-like device scans for cancer

    Boris Rubinsky et al.

    Star Trek fans know tricorders as familiar handheld devices that scan unfamiliar planets (and organisms). Real-world citizens, too, are becoming familiar with a host of futuristic gizmos that do everything from reading a critter's DNA to scanning patients for cancerous tumors, as shown in this side-by-side comparison of a fictional tricorder (left) and a medical scan of simulated breast tumor displayed on a cell phone.

  • Deflector shield envisioned for Mars missions

    Ruth Bamford And John Bradford

    A so-called deflector shield surrounds the Starship Enterprise, protecting the spacecraft and its crew from lethal doses of radiation. Lab experiments now suggest that a portable magnetic shield could protect real-life astronauts on a mission to Mars. The shield would force harmful particles to curve around the ship. The engineering details remain to be worked out, and for now, the shield protects only against particles from the solar wind. Gamma rays and X-rays would remain a threat. An artistic depiction of the technology deployed on the Enterprise is shown here.

  • U.S. Air Force develops PHaSER

    Image: PHaSER
    U.s. Air Force

    The weapon of choice for Trekkies is the phaser, a device that directs an adjustable beam of energy at its target. The phaser is capable of a range of effects, from a momentary stun to instant obliteration. The U.S. Air Force has developed its own prototype device with the Star Trek moniker PHaSER (Personal Halting and Stimulation Response). The hefty gunlike device was originally developed to blind an attacker temporarily. A second laser has since been added capable of heating up skin.

  • Holodeck tech emerging

    Tom Uhlman  /  AP

    Starfleet members seeking knowledge or fun can step into holodecks to experience an interactive virtual reality eerily close to life itself. Similar technologies are beginning to emerge in the real world, including this 3-D lab at Wright State University in Ohio, where businesses can use the technology to speed up and improve the designs of products. An energy company is using it to enhance their search for oil. Other firms are embracing advances in video and audio technology to make telepresence, or videoconferencing, more realistic. The most lifelike experiences, however, remain in science fiction.

  • Tractor beam manipulates cells on a chip


    In Star Trek, tractor beams are used by starships and space stations to control the movement of objects usually to pull them in closer, tow them along, or push them away. Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have used a tractor beam of light to pick up, hold and move around individual cells on the surface of a microchip. To demonstrate the technology, the researchers moved around and held in place 16 E. coli cells to spell out MIT, as shown in this image.

  • Cell phones are pretty good communicators

    Apple Inc. via AP

    Trek-style communicators are those little devices, handheld or sometimes worn as a badge, that allow Starfleet members to speak to others in different parts of the ship or different parts of a planet. Modern-day cell phones, including the iPhone shown here, just might wow even the likes of Captain Kirk.

  • Universal translators making strides


    In Star Trek, language is seldom a barrier thanks to universal translators, devices that allow people of different tongues to converse. Communication among cultures in the real world remains a challenge, but basic words and phrases are no longer stumbling blocks, thanks to gadgets such as the translator from iTRAVL shown here. Speak into the device, and it will translate the word or phrase and speak it aloud.

  • Cloaking devices coming out of hiding

    Naomi Halas, Rice University |

    Cloaking devices are rampant in science fiction, from Star Trek to Harry Potter but they are no longer confined to the imagination. Real-world scientists are creating new materials that manipulate wavelengths of light in ways that can hide objects from detection. This graphic shows the basic design of a 3-D metamaterial lined with nanocups that redirect the flow of light that hits it, making the object invisible.

  • Warp drive? Don't bet on it

    Les Bossinas  /  NASA

    The Enterprise can travel faster than light via something called warp drive — essentially, a device that warps the space-time continuum around a starship. Many scientists have batted around ideas about how to achieve blistering speeds in real life, but most experts have concluded that, at least for now, warping the fabric of space is beyond human understanding of the laws of physics. Among the difficulties is harnessing the energy required to kick-start the propulsion.


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