Holograms became the standard element in science fiction 1977 onwards when in the Original Star Wars film the holographic Princess Leia frantically appealed to Obi Wan Kenobi.
Researchers based at Brigham Young University (BYU), Provo, Utah are now determined to convert the imaginary into reality. They have named their project as “Princess Leia Project,” and they have created a way to project 3D images which seem to be floating in thin air.
The engineers have used lasers to capture and manipulate tiny particles floating in free space to create the volumetric visuals of a butterfly, a prism, and the logo of BYU. Although these are tiny projections right now, but, the project leader Daniel Smalley, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, is confident that the technology might one day assist in medical imaging, by generating 3D images which serve as roadmaps to surgeons conducting complex procedures.
Holograms are 3-dimensional images which are formed by dispersing light onto a 2-dimensional surface. However, a viewer needs to directly look at that surface to see the projections. Creation of 3-D images which will be visible from any angle, even to someone who walks around the projection is far more complex.
“To see the light, it needs to scatter off of something and enter your eye,” Smalley informed NBC News MACH via email. “Getting that scattering to happen in thin air is difficult.”
The research team solved the problem by using an intense laser beam that trapped a particle and made it move quickly along a path in free space. Another bunch of lasers then projected a visible light onto the particle, lighting it up in various colors.
To make the image float, they had to move the trapped particle at a pace that it resembled a solid image, “like a sparkler in the dark,” Smalley mentioned in a written statement.
Min Gu is another vastly experienced optics expert not associated with the Princess Leia Project said that the results are impressive and “very exciting.”
However Gu, who works as Associate Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology University, Australia stated that in his opinion it would be very difficult to create larger images using this technique. While it is quite tricky to control one particle, even if you are not required to control multiple particles at the same time over a much larger space, Gu said. To create a detailed image, “speed becomes a very important issue,” Gu added, implying that all of the particles will have to move much faster to create the illusion of solid images.
“I’m not saying it’s impossible, but if you talk about the detail, the level of the imaging and the quality, I think there’s a long way to go,” Gu said.
Smalley remarked that he and his team are already working on manipulating and illuminating various particles at the same time to create larger images, and if they succeed, this will open a whole new world of possibilities for uses of such projection technology in the times to come.
“When we make it bigger,” Smalley said, “I think telepresence would be a compelling application.”