Holograms have now gotten an upgrade thanks to technological advances that could possibly make the iconic lightsaber from Star Wars a reality. Lightsabers are not the only possibility with holograms as 2016 looks to make strides towards advancing this technology further.
Hologram technology has just been opened to the 3D world with the combined research of five different Japanese Universities. The collaborated efforts came from Yoichi Ochiai, Kota Kumagai, Satoshi Hasegawa, and Yoshio Hayasaki of Utsunomiya University, Takayuki Hoshi of Nagoya Institute, and Jun Rekimoto of the University of Tokyo. The touchable hologram experiments have been going on within Utsunomiya University’s Optical Research and Education Department. One of the leading researchers, Dr. Yoichi Ochiai, has stated that while it cannot proactively interact with humans in its current state, it does have the potential to be used for entertainment, medicine, and architecture.
At the basics, holography is defined as “lens-less photography” which is an inference pattern rather than a captured image. The touchable holograms – three dimensional virtual objects – have been dubbed with the name “Fairy Lights.” Making aerial holograms needs a medium to either reflect or emit light in precise locations. Researchers are using air as the medium and turning it into plasma. This process is a similar when lightning occurs and ionized air molecules, which are essentially air plasma, return their neutrons to a lower state of energy. “Fairy Lights” are able to respond and be manipulated through human touch, which interrupts pixels in mid-air. These pixels are actually called voxels, which are tiny and isolated volumes of plasma, and the basic building blocks of 3D display technology.
“Fairy Lights” are moved by human touch through the use of shock waves. These shock waves are faster than the speed of sound, creating a quick disruption in the medium it is in. The waves from “Fairy Lights” change the temperature, pressure, and density of the air it inhabits. The holograms have sound as well since plasma is a state of matter that makes noise. Through various settings and levels, the maximum sound plasma can produce goes up to 77.2 decibels.
The science of plasma is an important research component to the construction of “Fairy Lights.” As the fourth state of matter, plasma is ionized gas and the most common form matter in the universe. Gas can become plasma in a variety of ways, the most popular of which is pumping gas with energy. Femtosecond lasers, which are plasma-based, are lasers that pulse a quadrillionth of a second, making them short lived and able to emit light. These emissions are related to lightning and allow “Fairy Lights” to radiate in the ultraviolet and infrared light spectrum.
This new research about touchable holograms has also gotten science fiction excited. A new hope for lightsabers is closer than ever. In terms of structure, a lightsaber’s blade is made of concentrated plasma because plasma can be generated at a variety of temperatures. This variety of temperatures can reach up to several thousands of degrees, making it able to cut through multiple objects and surfaces. Lightsabers would need a substantial amount of heat, so plasma torches would be the way to go. Plasma torches essentially follow the same principle of lightbulbs and can convey large electrical currents. These currents have the ability to heat up and melt material.
While there are bits and pieces that can be used to create a lightsabers, a lot of research is needed for the structure of the blade and the base. Plasma acts as a very hot gas and needs to be contained. Currently there is no way to contain the blade of a lightsaber and have it withstand the stress of combat. This means that plasma blades will remain in science fiction until technology has advanced enough to make it a viable weapon.
The science behind hologram technology is extremely complex and still has many years before any possible marketing can be done for it. The biggest setbacks right now in advancing the touchable holograms are the size of the images and the fact that the lasers burn human skin. The size of the aerial projection is no bigger than 5 cubic centimeters at the moment because of the sheer work and research needed to make a touchable hologram. As for the more damaging components to “Fairy Lights,” some burn skin while others are highly damaging to the eyes. At the moment, researchers have been wearing protective goggles while experimenting and creating the holograms.
As for the future of holograms, it seems to be bright and going at full force. The possibilities are endless for business and for pleasure. Computers could have keyboards made of light, virtual touch video chats could be possible, and portable tools for construction and business meetings could be a thing of the future. Innovations may even make their way into the gaming communities with games going into the realm of virtual reality, connecting to the human senses in ways never before done. Maybe in the decades to come, lightsabers will be a reality and the technological world will change from touchscreens to touchable holograms.