Researchers create holograms able to move in the air

Researchers at BYU have been able to create hologram images that actually move in the air. The breakthrough is inspired by displays seen in science fiction, and the scenes they create are described as "real," according to lead researcher Dan Smalley. Smalley notes the scenes have nothing computer-generated about them, and the images are real and can be seen from any angle in that space.

Previously the team developed something called optical trap displays created by trapping a single particle in the air with a laser beam. The trapped particle is then moved with the laser beam leaving behind a laser-illuminated path that floats in midair. Smalley describes a display as "a 3D printer for light." The team's latest research can produce simple animations directly in the air.

Researchers on the project say the development paves the way for an immersive experience allowing people to interact with holographic-like virtual objects that coexist in their immediate space. Smally says that most 3D displays require users to look at the screen, but his team's technology allows images to be created floating in space. He also notes the images are physical rather than being a mirage.

The technology opens the door to creating vibrant animated content orbiting around or crawling on everyday physical objects. The team demonstrated the interaction between their virtual images and people by having a student place a finger in the middle of a volumetric display. The stick figure they projected was able to walk along and jump off the finger.

The new work overcomes a limiting factor of the optical trap displays the team created previously. That limiting factor was that the technology lacked the ability to show virtual images, but the team has now simulated virtual images by using a time-varying perspective projection backdrop.