May the Acoustic Radiation Pressure Be With You

9 10 2009

Even George Lucas had no idea what would come of holography when he made Star Wars.

Remember when Princess Leia’s image beamed out of R2-D2’s dome in Star Wars:  A New Hope, asking Obi-Wan Kenobi for his help?  Or when the image of the first Death Star engulfed the briefing room where the Rebel Alliance was planning their attack?

I remember…of course.  I’ve seen the movie at least a hundred times.  Ever since seeing those 3D images I’ve always  wondered if holographic technology would ever be involved in our daily lives.  And no, I don’t mean Wolf Blitzer using it on CNN.  Here’s a video parodying his use of the hologram.

Well, it hasn’t yet even though holographs have been around since 1947 when Hungarian physicist, Dennis Gabor stumbled upon the effect while trying to improve the technology of electron microscopes.

Holography has yet to become intertwined with our lives, as I’m sure Lucas had probably dreamed it would.  Yet I’m sure Lucas had no idea what has come of holography within the past year.

Touchable holography.  This could quite possibly be the springboard that holography has needed to become mainstream in society.  How cool would it be it Wolf could reach out and shake hands with the person in holographic form and sense the hologram’s hand.

Touchable holography is the term given to a new holographic technique developed by scientist from the University of Tokyo and Provision Interactive Technologies, Inc.

The hologram itself was developed by Provision Interactive Technologies, which has been a leader in the development of 3D interactive display technologies since 2001.  The one used in this research is “Holo”, PIT’s 2009 version of their hologram.

The important breakthrough of touchable holography is the ability to create tactile feel for users without dressing the holographic image, which has been the problem in the past.  The solution to this is what  the University of Tokyo has called the Airborne Ultrasound Tactile Display.  This a display that emits ultrasound and acoustic radiation pressure.

When an object, such as a person’s hand interrupts the ultrasound waves, a pressure is exerted on the object.  This gives the sensation of touch.

This system works with the combination of the hologram, tactile display, and Wiimotes, the controllers from Nintendo’s popular Wii gaming system.  The Wiimotes are used to track the movement of objects interacting with the holographic images via infrared sensors.

As shown in this video, a user can interact with the hologram and physically touch it.  A ball can be bounced, raindrops can be felt dripping onto a hand, or even a miniature elephant can be sensed running in the palm of someone’s hand.

This could propel holography into the mainstream because the ability to feel the images allow for multiple applications.  This technology could lead to holographic computer interfaces or video games.  Hospitals could benefit from this technology by having virtual switches which would minimize contamination.  And yes, one day we may even have virtual girlfriends and boyfriends.

Now that leads to a whole new type of movie, probably not the kind George Lucas would be interested in making.