Holographic Displays: Making Their Way into Everyday Devices

By Dr S.S. Verma

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Tele-immersion will blur the lines between real and computer-generated images. It will be the ultimate tele-commuting technology, almost entirely eliminating the rush-hour drive to work. Instead of commuting, people could attend board meetings by projecting themselves into the company’s conference room.

Holography promises to change how we approach technology. From medical diagnostics to education, data storage, defence and cyber security, 3D holography has the potential to transform a range of industries. There is anticipated interest from consumers who may wish to watch their favourite movies from their smartphones, projected off screen in 3D. Several tech companies are evaluating smartphones and wearables in preparation for integration of holographic sensors.

Some current applications

  1. Holographic interferometry is used by researchers and industry designers to test and design many things, from tyres and engines to prosthetic limbs and artificial bones and joints.
  2. Supermarket and department store scanners use a holographic lens system that directs laser light onto the bar codes of the merchandise.
  3. Holographic optical elements are used for navigation by airplane pilots. A holographic image of the cockpit instruments appears to float in front of the windshield. This allows the pilot to keep his eyes on the runway or the sky while reading the instruments. This feature is available on some models of automobiles.
  4. Medical doctors can use three-dimensional holographic CAT scans to make measurements without invasive surgery. This technique is also used in medical education.
  5. Holograms are used in advertisements and consumer packaging of products to attract potential buyers.
  6. Holograms have been used on covers of magazine publications, as well as sports trading cards.
  7. Use of holograms on credit cards and debit cards provides added security to minimise counterfeiting.
  8. Holography has been used to make archival recordings of valuable and/or fragile museum artifacts.
  9. Sony Electronics uses holographic technology in their digital cameras. A holographic crystal allows the camera to detect the edge of the subject and differentiate between it and the background. As a result, the camera is able to focus accurately in dark conditions.
  10. Holography has been used by artists to create pulsed holographic portraits as well as other works of art.
  11. Future colour LCDs will be brighter and whiter as a result of holographic technology.
  12. Holographic night-vision goggles
  13. Many researchers believe that holographic televisions will become available within a decade. Holographic motion pictures have been previously attempted and may become a reality within the next few years.
  14. Holographic memory is a new optical storage method that can store one terabyte (1000GB) of data in a crystal approximately the size of a sugar cube. In comparison, CDs can hold 650-700MB, DVDs 4.7GB, and computer hard drives 120GB.
  15. Optical computers will be capable of delivering trillions of bits of information faster than the latest computers.

Challenges and solutions

Holograms don’t move. To make them move, we need to create a hologram in real time. This needs little tiny pixels—smaller than anything we can build in large volume at low cost. Although the holographic displays research community has made significant advances in recent years, the prospect of a true holographic display still remains elusive. Holographic displays are still at the basic research stage and require significant technological advances before they become commercially feasible.

People expect that high-quality holograms will entertain them in the near future, because visualisations are increasingly becoming sophisticated and highly imaginative due to the use of computer-aided graphics and recently-developed digital devices that provide augmented or virtual reality. To be commercially feasible in a range of applications—from medicine to gaming to media—the hologram challenge is daunting. It involves scaling an electronic device to a size small enough to fit on a table top, while making it robust enough to render immense amounts of data needed to create a full-surround 3D viewing experience from every angle—without the need for special glasses or other viewing aids.

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The capacity of holographic-video displays is measured according to the space-bandwidth (SB) product. The SB product is the product of the number of pixels and their spatial frequency—the inverse of their size. So we are looking for a large number of very small pixels. To have a large number of pixels is not really helpful if these are large.

One of the big barriers to the consumer application of holographic technology has been the price of the components. Affordable holographic displays could easily be valuable to the gaming and entertainment industries, and could add a new dimension to videoconferencing.

Some of the limitations and their possible solutions for electronics holographic displays are summarised below.

3D LED light boxes
3D LED light boxes (Credit: www.w-co.co.uk)

Image quality

Digital holograms are often associated with noisy, low-contrast, low-resolution and mono-colour imagery. High-contrast, high-resolution and full-colour digital holograms can be formed using existing hardware devices, yielding images that more closely match the quality of conventional displays.

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