University of Arizona takes 3D hologram route

The University of Arizona has developed technology that could replace 3D displays with holographic ones, potentially ending the rise of 3D TV before it has really taken off.

Professor Nasser Peyghambarian of the College of Optical Sciences at the University of Arizona led a team of researchers to develop the holographic technology, which projects a three-dimensional moving image without the need for special glasses or devices.

“Holographic telepresence means we can record a three-dimensional image in one location and show it in another location, in real-time, anywhere in the world,” said Peyghambarian.

While TV seems like an obvious contendor the technology, Peyghambarian suggests its main use would be in telepresence. It could even be used for telemedicine, where doctors and patients could consult virtually, or advertising and entertainment.

“Let’s say I want to give a presentation in New York,” said Peyghambarian, explaining the telepresence use. “All I need is an array of cameras here in my Tucson office and a fast Internet connection. At the other end, in New York, there would be the 3D display using our laser system. Everything is fully automated and controlled by computer. As the image signals are transmitted, the lasers inscribe them into the screen and render them into a three-dimensional projection of me speaking.”

The prototype uses a 10-inch screen, but the research group are also testing a 17-inch variant, along with a way to show full colour, which is currently not possible on the prototype. 

The image is recorded with an array of cameras, which view the subject or object form different angles and perspectives, which is then beamed out by lasers to create the holographic image, made up of hogels, or holographic pixels. The hologram will then naturally decay after several seconds or minutes, depending on the setting.

Previous attempts at holographic technology, famed for its use in science-fiction movies like Star Wars, has failed due to an inability to dynamically update the holographic images. This problem has been addressed with the new technology, making it a viable option for the future.

“At the heart of the system is a screen made from a novel photorefractive material, capable of refreshing holograms every two seconds, making it the first to achieve a speed that can be described as quasi-real-time,” said Pierre-Alexandre Blanche, an assistant research professor for the project.

The photorefractive polymer film required for the holograms was manufactured by Nitto Denko Technical, which helped the University of Arizona with the project.

The technology is featured in today’s issue of the Nature science journal.