Utah engineers making moving holograms

PROVO, Utah – You’ve likely seen the scene from Star Wars: A New Hope where Princess Leia holographed a message to Luke Skywalker.

Now engineers at Brigham Young University in Provo are nearing the goal of making this a reality.

Professor Daniel Smalley and his team can now project small holographic animations into the real world.

It captures a single particle in the air with a laser beam and then moves it around.

It leaves a trail of light that floats in the air, much like a 3D printer does for light.

“You can draw pictures in the air that appear to be continuous, just like you can draw your name in the air with a sparkler,” Smalley said.

To demonstrate this, the team created a virtual stick figure that is able to walk along and jump off a student’s finger.

Right now, the animations are very small at about an inch cube, but the hope is to get them to about 8 inches, the size of the Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars.

This new development paves the way for a full experience where people can interact with virtual objects that exist in real life.

Smalley said, “You can think of a teacher who just uses a normal everyday classroom globe, but now satellites are flying overhead or showing weather patterns and how they can move back and forth.”

Future versions of this technology could also improve video calling by bringing people into the room in the form of a hologram.

“That head could then spin and make eye contact and look at different people in the room in ways that the abstraction of a screen would never allow,” Smalley said.

Another way the BYU professor envisions this technology is to project different images onto different people.

“They could have particles that are distributed differently for each viewer, giving them content that is specific to their security clearance or their native language,” Smalley said.

The research group’s newest project is funded by a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation.

To learn more about the holographic work Professor Smalley does with his students, visit his lab website here.

Comments are closed.