A boy plays a holographic game

Colin Anderson

Holographic Displays

The early prototypes of tele-immersive displays require users to wear special goggles and ­a head device that tracks the viewpoints of users looking at the screen. On the other end, the people that appear as 3-D images are being tracked with an array of seven ordinary video cameras, while two other video cameras capture real light patterns projected in each room to calculate distances. This enables the proper depth to be re-created on the screen. So, if a viewer moves his head to the right, he can see the corresponding images that would be seen if he were actually in the room with the person on the screen.

­Images on the screen are split and polarized to create a different image for each eye. The goggles then combine these images so that the brain recognizes only one 3-D image. This process is similar to how those old 3-D movie glasses work. Early experiments, like the one at UNC in May, have experienced some glitches, similar to those of normal video-conferencing. The scenes being projected are only refreshed three times per second, which creates a jerky image. If that rate could be improved to 10 frames per second, it would create a seamless projected image that would be like looking through a window at another person. Scientists are developing new technologies to support this type of communication, including:

  • Internet2 - This would replace the current Internet infrastructure. This new network will have a higher bandwidth and speeds 1,000 times faster than today's Internet. This high-bandwidth, high-speed network is necessary to transfer the large amounts of data that tele-immersion will produce.
  • Display technologies - Stereo-immersive displays would have to present a clear view of the scenes being transmitted.
  • Haptic sensors would allow people to touch projections as if they were real.
  • Desktop supercomputers would perform the trillions of calculations needed to create a holographic environment. Another possibility to support these environments would be a network of computers that share power.

­ Tele-immersion will blur the lines between real and computer-generated images. It will be the ultimate tele-commuting technology, almost entirely eliminating the rush-hour drive to work. Instead of commuting, people could attend board meetings by projecting themselves into the company's conference room. And if your job requires you to travel, you could still be home for dinner by tele-immersing yourself into the family kitchen. Because this technology is still in the early stages of development, the possibilities are truly endless.

For more information on holographic environments and related topics, check out the links on the next page.