Seeing in 3D

Credit: Tecnológico de Monterrey

Credit: Tecnológico de Monterrey

From early stereoscopic images to 3D screens and holograms, people have always been fascinated by the possibility of enhancing our visual perception and bridging the gap between various two-dimensional representations of the world and its actual three-dimensionality.

Sadly, despite recent developments in 3D technology, the digital world is still under the domination of 2D. On top of it, the divide between 2D and 3D appears to be bigger than ever as digital platforms continue to gain importance in how we interact with the world. Incorporating the digital world of ideas into the fabric of reality remains the next logical step that could give the word vision a whole new dimension.

So, what technologies do we have today that could clear the way to this future?

The most consumer-available 3D technology today is, of course, 3D screens, which use various techniques to convey the illusion of depth perception and in most cases require you to wear those much-hated 3D glasses. And it goes without saying that this is part of the reason why 3D television did not really take off and why so many people secretly hate going to 3D theatres.

Even though autostereoscopic glasses-free 3D displays may have a second chance, they provide only a limited continuous field-of-view. The real game-changer, according to a recent article in Frontiers in Robotics and AI, would be the emergence of “high quality full field-of-view stereo-displays that do not require special glasses, where there is a seamless blend between reality and VR”.

Such displays would transform completely how we experience our digital content. So, next time you are having a video call, image that your screen is a window overlooking the room with your interlocutor. Wouldn’t that be great? 

But as long as these displays remain out of reach, there is something else to be excited about, and of course we are talking about holographic technology.

So, let’s get to the burning question: will we ever witness that Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars or the Holodeck from the Star Trek universe, where characters could experience and visualize their dreams in reality?

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In recent years, we have seen all sort of holographic projections, most of them (like the one in the video below), however, being just sophisticated variations of Pepper’s ghost, an optical illusion, which has been around in some form for nearly four centuries. But is there any holographic technology besides this expensive visual trickery?

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, a company called Ostendo has spent almost ten years working on miniature projectors that can emit floating 3D images. The most exiting part is that the projectors are small enough to be embedded in future mobile devices.

So far we can only have a glimpse of what Ostendo’s projectors are capable of: the demo below shows just a few seconds of several Ostendo projectors beaming a 3D image of dice spinning in the air. Reportedly, the image was consistent regardless of the position of the viewer, which already sounds quite exciting.

It still remains unclear how Ostendo creates images in thin air. Other companies, by contrast, have been able to achieve similar effects only by using at least some kind of screen. For instance, Leia Display Systems, a company with a telling name, has recently demonstrated their holographic projection system, which works with an amazing but hardly practical water-vapour screen.

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