Holograms get real: Startup creates objects out of light and thin air

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The futuristic vision art of solidlight displays.

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Hologram. Practically every sci-fi movie and TV show for the past 50 years has some version of this futuristic technology. A realistic 3D object made of nothing more than light, usually hovering over a table or interacting with our heroes, simply shouts “This is the future!”


After countless disappointing versions of the technology, a startup called Light Field Lab has begun production on a technology called SolidLight, which is designed to create real-life holograms. the promise is basically Star Trek’s Holodeck, minus the tactility and murderous moriarty (have hope). See here how it works.

What is (and isn’t) a hologram

You might be thinking “Great deal, I’ve seen holograms for years!” Well, yes and no. Most of the visual effects that are called “holograms” are nothing at all. For example, if you have ever experienced haunted Mansion Rides at Disney parks, the dancing ghosts are neither real ghosts (sorry, spoilers), nor are they holograms. They use a technique called “black pepper ghostwhich dates back to the early 1800s. This is also how Tupac performed “live” on stage 16 years after his death.

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Not even a hologram? NS Spinning LED Image Maker Which was at CES a few years back. 3D displays, VR and AR are all like holograms, but not the real thing. even Looking Glass’ 3D Picture Frame are not holograms, they are autostereoscopic, aka glasses free 3d, the same technology found on the Nintendo 3DS.

What we all want, when we think of a “hologram,” is something that appears in space, just like any real object would. Nothing special is limited inside the small screen, can only be seen from a narrow angle. Ideally, we’d want a holodeck, or at least Princess Leia asks Obi-Wan for help.

Therefore. very. pixels

SolidLight Display's futuristic vision art showing a holographic soccer pitch

The futuristic vision art of solidlight displays. Imagine instead of a standard foosball table, you could play against your friends on an ultra-high-resolution, holographic soccer pitch.

Light Field Lab’s SolidLight technology sounds like science fiction. They company’s goal is, basically, to recreate objects in the real world with light, just like a sci-fi holodeck. The physics of how they’re aiming to make it work is really simple. Well, simple in concept, certainly not simple in execution.

Essentially, they are causing the waves of light to interact at a specific point, and that interaction is visible to your eyes. By doing this much, they can create the illusion of a whole object “made” of light.

And when I say a lot I mean a lot. Their 28-inch diagonal panel has a 2.5 . Is One billion Pixels. For comparison, a 4K TV has 8.2 million. They’re imagining holographic video walls made of these tiny panels, with upwards of 245 billion pixels.

These pixels are far more complex than your phone or TV screen. They are able to precisely manipulate the phase of light waves, so the interaction of those waves creates the holographic effect. Standard LCD or OLED Pixels just need to be made Red, Gree, and Blue. The SolidLight’s pixels need to form specific colors at a specific location in front of the display so that the image appears off the screen.

Graphic showing solidlight physics

Some of you may be familiar with Yamaha’s IntelliBeam audio technology, which uses an array of tweeters to make it seem like the sound is coming from anywhere in the room but the soundbar. It’s essentially the same thing, only on a microscopic scale, because light waves are orders of magnitude smaller than the air molecules that make up sound waves.

Your field of view with the SolidLight display is basically your field of view with the display. That is to say, if you are looking at the display 180 degrees from side to side, you do not see the hologram. It’s not that level of magic (yet). There must still be an imaginary line between your eye and the screen for the hologram to be visible in the middle.

SolidLight Display's futuristic vision art showing a sports car

The futuristic vision art of solidlight displays. Imagine a wall in a conference room that allows you to view projects in holographic 3D.

What makes SolidLight interesting is that you don’t need any special glasses for it to work, nor do you need to be directly in front of the screen. You can still be at an angle, and you’ll see the hologram with whatever amount of field of view of your eye is filled by the SolidLight display.

And because the technology is scalable, you can have a very large display and a very large hologram. Imagine wall-sized holographic displays and how they can be a game-changer for entertainment. Forget About VR Headsets, How About VR? rooms. You can have an entire room with SolidLight displays on all four walls, floors, and ceilings, and you’ll have just one holodeck. Or at least as close as modern technology can get.

Eventually, this sort of thing should be possible, but for now the company’s goals for the technology are a little more realistic. They’re aiming to create holographic displays ranging from desktop to wall-sized. The latter would be the most impressive, I think. Holographic, interactive walls for meetings and collaborations, or to impress visitors in corporate offices.

computer end program

Future Vision Art of SolidLight Display with a Giant Sneaker

Instead of billboards or flat, ad wrap, a hologram that sticks out from the wall? Back to the Future Part II Anyone?

Silicon Valley is rife with random startups that get to capital somehow, but investors in Light Field Lab are more like serious tech folks, including Samsung, Comcast, and Verizon. Those company are already sold out on pre-orders, which means, it’s not all theoretical, they’re actually manufacturing them.

History is also rife with companies claiming to have holography and soon-to-coming holodeck-style technology, but SolidLight has some fascinating physics that could be a breakthrough in bringing holograms to the mainstream.

Will this be your next TV, or your next, next TV too? No, but you should start seeing these demonstrations in the real world early next year. They are already in preproduction, with various sizes expected to go into mass production soon.

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