Monday, February 8, 2010

Holograms, the new 3D?

I've been watching a lot of Bones lately. Like all good forensics-type shows, it's got science fiction elements. (No lab has the kind of technology that shows up in the various CSIs, or House, or Bones, and even Numb3rs is a little out there at times.) The main sci-fi thing in Bones is their hologram display, which gets used for everything from facial reconstructions to reenactments of murders to pretty artistic things that don't have anything much to do with the plot. All in all, it's really, really cool and I want one even if I couldn't program the thing worth a darn.

Y'know what would make it cooler? If you could touch and manipulate those images.

If you watched the video (and if you haven't, why not?), you'll know that they're using Wiimotes and ultrasonic radiation to create the illusion of touchable holograms. They're not the real deal, but it's a step closer than we've been before, and if they keep working on this, who knows what could happen?

Before I start my rampant speculation™, let's hear from the researchers:
The developed system can render various virtual objects because not only visual but also tactile sensation is refreshable based on digital data. It is useful for video games, 3D CADs, and so on. 
Gaming and computer modeling are good applications, sure, and I welcome them with open arms, but let's be a little more creative.

  • What if, instead of Giant Weapons of Doom sweeping out of the screen to shock'n'awe, they actually "touched" us?**
  • We could create those pop-up hologram ads from Back To the Future II.
  • A director could use it for special effects on Broadway. This could launch Star Trek! The Musical to much enthusiasm and fear.***
  • Touchable holograms could be used in the classroom, either to demo something or for the kids to interact with—dissections and physics labs being the more obvious possibilities. 
  • They could act as a kind of tablet, allowing us to program computers and create models just by waving our hands around? (What? They do it for Hollywood spaceship controls.) 
  • There are medical applications, not just for remote operations and dissections, but also for examining scans from multiple angles (see Firefly).
  • Let's be really wild and say that the holograms could be used for: cooking utensils, babysitters, guard dogs, actors, Walmart greeters, petting zoo animals, fish lures, educational toys.
  • And then, of course, there's the display from Bones. As I said earlier, wouldn't it be awesome(r) if they could move it around without a tablet?

I haven't forgotten about the linguistics thing. That'll be up for the next post. I just don't want to bore anyone by going linguistics, linguistics, linguistics, because … yeah.

* PhysOrg via io9, pdf document via Boing Boing Gadgets and Boing Boing
** I remember a Disneyland ride years ago where they did something similar, with machines under the carpets and actual water sprayed on the audience.
*** And if Joss Whedon found a way to use the technology? *glees*

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