Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Help Me Obi Wan Kenobi

My experience with holograms doesn't extend much farther than Princess Leia's secret message to Obi Wan Kenobi, entrusted to R2D2 in the first Star Wars movie released (but really the fourth story in the series) A New Hope. Yeah, Nerd Alert, I'm OK with it. Anyway, Star Wars has shown us that holograms are something used in a galaxy far far away, certainly not here on Earth, and certainly not in present day. But alas, Star Wars has led me wrong.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
New research from the University of Arizona is close to making holograms a reality. So far, the group is able to film a video image and beam it to a new location where it updates in "near" real-time. The research team has been working to improve the speed at which the images are conveyed, and has gotten them as fast as every two seconds. Video with a continuous flow of images, like Princess Leia's famous message, is just around the corner.

The BBC article by Jonathan Amos, "Hologram messaging coming of age," breaks down the process like this:
1. A series of cameras arranged in a semi-circle take multiple images of a person or object from lots of different angles.
2. The images are fed into a computer, where they are processed and then sent to another computer at a different location
3. A specially designed 3D printing system receives the images and based on the information contained in them, controls a laser that "writes" the images onto a screen made of a special plastic.
4. The special plastic screen can update every two seconds, but a light source is needed to be able to see the changing holograms.

The researchers say that holograms will be useful for manufacturing, to update plans or blueprints as workers are designing new models. I think it has value simply for being cool and for proving to Star Wars geeks that IT COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN, well at least the hologram part.

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