Science & Technology

"Star Wars"–Style Holograms Are Becoming a Reality

The first time Luke lays eyes on Leia in "Star Wars," it's in hologram form. You know the scene. Holograms are a pretty big part of "Star Trek," too — remember the Doctor on "Voyager"? Unfortunately, moving holograms that really have physical volume are a long way off in real life. But in 2018, researchers took a giant holographic leap forward.

Traveling Light

Think back to the last time you saw a hologram. Not an especially fresh memory? Then just pull out your credit card and look on the back — you'll probably find an inset 3D image as a security measure. Yeah, holograms are pretty much everywhere, but they're a far cry from the moving illusions we've seen in science fiction. Even the most advanced holograms require a lot of setup, and despite innovations like the touch-responsive holograms shown below, animation has been difficult to manage.

Now, researchers at Brigham-Young University have developed an incredibly advanced method for creating holograms that not only makes them both solid and animated, but it's also surprisingly cheap. The secret is a device called an Optical Trap Display, which traps an opaque particle in an invisible laser beam. It then moves that particle around in a preset path while illuminating it in red, green, or blue light. The result is an illusionary object floating in mid-air that engineers can animate by making slight modifications to the programmed path.

They're Illusions, Michael

The developers of these new holograms believe they have the potential to dramatically change how we interact with technology. We're talking "Minority Report"–style holographic displays that surround the user. Pretty cool ... and also a pretty long way off. So far, they've only been able to create a thumbnail-sized butterfly flapping its wings. In order to create a larger hologram, they'll need to be able to manipulate more than one particle at a time. But still, this is a huge step forward. We can't wait to send our first holographic selfie.

Written by Reuben Westmaas February 13, 2018

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