After 25 years of development, a special computing system can now project high-quality 3D holographic projections as video.

Holograms, as two-dimensional projections, lose their magic if the viewer takes just a few steps away from the display.

The theory behind 3D holography goes back to 1960s with the invention of laser technology.

Scientists knew early on what they needed to project 3D holograms: high-performance computing power to enable processing data in real time.

However, even today’s computers struggle to produce photorealistic 3D holography.

But thanks to a new breakthrough, the concept of 3D holography is now scientifically feasible. With this breakthrough, researchers are exploring some technical solutions to make it a reality.

Attempts at Creating 3D Holograms

In 2014, Burton, a Japanese company, demonstrated its process, called Aerial 3D, that uses a laser to heat oxygen and nitrogen molecules to transform them into bright 3D shapes.

Technically you can touch Burton’s 3D hologram floating in midair. But they could burn you as they’re made out of hot plasma.

In 2015, a research group called the Digital Nature Group (DNG), used a femtosecond laser to heat plasma dots and create 3D holograms that you can see from any angle.

Unlike Burton’s, you can touch these without the risk of burning your finger.

Earlier this year, physicists at Brigham Young University (UK) took inspiration from R2-D2’s projections of Princess Leia in Star Wars to develop a 3D holography technology.

The system, called an Optical Trap Display, works like a 3D printer that uses light to print 3D objects thanks to dust particles suspended in laser traps.

While all these solutions have their own advantages and setbacks, none can compete with what a research team at Chiba University (Japan) have in store.

3D Holography as Video

In 1992, professor Tomoyoshi Ito, an astronomer and a computer scientist, began Project HORN with his team at Chiba University.

HORN, or HOlographic ReconstructioN, aims to create special-purpose hardware that’s fast enough to render 3D holography.

Now, 25 years later, HORN is at its 8th version.

HORN 8 “was recognized as the world’s fastest computer for holography” at a speed equivalent to 0.5 petaflops.

The HORN system, which uses eight chips mounted on a Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA), can project photorealistic 3D holography as a video.

Basically, HORN 8 employs electroscopy, a similar process in 3D TVs, without the need for binoculars to visualize moving 3D objects.

“We have been developing high-speed computers for 3-D holography by implementing the knowledge of information engineering and the technology of electrical and electronic engineering and by learning insights from computer science and optical methods,” professor Ito said. “This is a result of the interdisciplinary approach of our research that has been conducted for over 25 years with the commendable effort by our students who have been studying at our lab.”

Professor Ito and his team have published two papers, one about HORN 8 back in April in Nature Electronics, and a recent one detailing the improvements they made to the system in the Optical Society journal.

Which other potential approaches to 3D holography deserve mention?

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