Star Wars 'hologram' may become TV reality

Scientists have transmitted three-dimensional holographic video images in a breakthrough that promises to bring Star Wars technology into the living room.

It was 33 years ago that Princess Leia called for the help of Luke Skywalker and his allies in the form of a holographic message shown in the original 1977 Star Wars film. Now scientists believe they are close to perfecting the real thing.

For the first time, true three-dimensional holographic images have been transmitted from one place to another in near real-time, said Nasser Peyghambarian of the University of Arizona in Tucson. The images are refreshed once every two seconds.

"We have come up with a new technique for three-dimensional telepresence. Holographic telepresence means we can record a three-dimensional image in one location and show it in another location, in near real-time, anywhere in the world," he said.

The scientists envisage a day when surgeons around the world will be able to operate remotely on the same patient, whose body is represented in each surgeon's office as a holographic image that faithfully represents the real-life person. They believe holography could be used by manufacturers for designing new cars or mobile phones by manipulating images of the prototypes without the need to make 3D models. Other possible uses include holographic videoconferences and holographic TVs where images "pop up" from a table-top projector.

"The beauty of this technology is that [you get] different perspectives of the image. In surgery, for example, the cameras would be placed where the surgery is done so that doctors in different parts of the world could participate and see things as if they were there," Dr Peyghambarian said.

The system, described in the journal Nature, projects images from 16 perspectives using 16 cameras but it has the potential to show hundreds of perspectives, making an object appear as it would to the naked eye, he said. "A person sitting in front of an object on a table will see the front, while someone on the other side of the table will see the back, and people sitting on other sides will see different perspectives," he explained.

The key to the invention is a new plastic material called a photorefractive polymer that allows 3D images to be recorded from many perspectives and updated every two seconds. The scientists hope to increase the refresh rate to 30 frames a second, giving moving images video quality.

"We've demonstrated that the concept is no longer science fiction, it's something we can do today," Dr Peyghambarian said.

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