Viewers of CNN might have been reminded of Star Wars when Wolf Blitzer spoke to a hologram of correspondent Jessica Yellin on election night.
Unfortunately, this was a bit of a cheat, since from Mr. Blitzer’s perspective nothing was there — just special effects. This is not to dismiss altogether CNN’s technical achievement. Even if they lacked the technology to project a three dimensional image, simply creating one in real time by synchronizing input from 35 high definition cameras, then transmitting it from Chicago to New York to chat with Wolf, is pretty amazing.
I did some googling for the state of the art. While there are a number of systems for producing the illusion of 3D without special glasses, they all seem to use some variation of smoke and mirrors. The closest I found to an actual in-the-round, fully three dimensional projection was from the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology of Japan, and that was not so much a projection as the use of lasers to create three dimensional patterns. These “light up” a spot of air, as if placing a pixel in a volume of space. I’m not sure how Star War‘s R2D2 managed it — perhaps with an array of ultrafine laser emitters.
Holograms at home are a ways off yet. A small laser such as that in a CD player doesn’t take up much power, but the equivalent of several thousand of them could make domestic use prohibitive. Mind you, this CBC article suggests that we’ll be able to substitute LEDs for lasers in future, in which case energy consumption may become less of a limiting factor.
Until then, a route to explore might be high tech, multi-camera, multi-processor image aquisition ala CNN, coupled with a mechanical push pin device.
If you’re content with the two dimensional realm, how about a projector the size of a cell phone? It’s been possible for awhile now to share music from an mp3 player using portable speakers; now that these itty bitty players and phones and netbooks and whatnot can also display video, the Optoma Pico Projector has more or less inevitably appeared.
With the collapse of the economy, I foresee the advent of tent town cinemas, where, for a quarter, people will come together to watch the latest movies pirated from the internet, played from the proprietor’s phone, and displayed on the tent’s wall using one of these little projectors. Those who can’t afford the quarter will be able to watch the projection on the outside of the tent, but in reverse. The battery of the Pico Projector is only good for 90 minutes, so there’ll have to be a brief break in most movies for a battery swap. Later, the theatre proprietor will get some security guards at a local business to charge up the batteries for free as they watch pirated porno with the projector plugged into a wall outlet. Those sci-fi writers like William Gibson who predicted a dystopian future were certainly prescient. But measured in lumens, the future is bright.