True 3D Images : Princess Leia and Lasers
A Japanese company has recently demonstrated a system that displays simple 3D images in the air. They claim it is the first such system that does not need any type of screen to achieve this effect.
Three dimensional images suspended in the air are one of those science-fiction tropes that we’ve seen for countless years and should be (unlike faster than light drives and teleportation) fully realizable one day. The most famous example of this has to be the iconic image of R2D2 projecting the image of Princess Leia at the beginning of Star Wars: A New Hope. In one form or another, 3D images have existed for quite a while but most recently, a 3D renaissance (that no one really cared about) swept the flat-screen tv industry. This technology and the types used in the movies can be impressive but it’s still not Leia. It’s pseudo-3D, just tricks and optical illusions on a 2D surface. A true 3D image suspended in the air has been attempted as well and some looked promising but they still mostly depended on the light reflecting off some surface even if it were a misty cloud in the air. Cool but not quite what we really want.
Now a company called Burton Inc. has extended previous work to develop what they call a True 3D display that can show objects suspended in mid-air and it’s way cool.
It works, not by reflecting light off something, but by causing light to be emitted from precisely where you want it to come from. It achieves this using laser plasma emission technology. This focusses an intense laser beam on specific points in the air (or water) that you want to build your moving image from. The laser excites the nitrogen and oxygen in the air until it ionizes, becoming a plasma, which then emits a bright dot of bluish-white light. Computer control of the laser can create 50,000 dots of light that can move at the equivalent of 10 to 15 frames per second. As of yet the images are somewhat simple consisting of arrays of dots to form things like butterflies and spheres.
Next up we may soon see 24 to 30 frames per second and color through the use of red, green, and blue lasers.
The maker first thought this could be used for signage. A better initial application some think would be to use it for public announcements in the air during natural disasters for example or perhaps even as a bat signal (crimes of course can occur on cloudless nights after all). The company also claims it could also be used to analyze 3D objects and in health care.
I’m still hoping this tech could one day allow me to see and hear Leia say, “Help me Bob, you’re my only hope” but considering we’re talking about high powered lasers and plasma it may be more like playing with a light saber.
Image Credit: Burton Inc