Redefining Holograms for the Modern Era


Few technologies have captivated both the attention and imagination of humanity as the Hologram. The concept of holographic technology, through decades of invention and consumer desire, has evolved far beyond the strict physical definition previously imposed on it. Purists would argue that, by definition, a ‘hologram’ is a three-dimensional image formed by the interference of light beams from a laser or other coherent light source. This definition, when compared to the common conceptualization of a hologram, is archaic or, at best, incomplete.

Nearly every fictional, and yet unrealized, representation of the future, be it film, television, or concept design, utilizes what would be termed ‘holograms.’ However, this idealized dream of the technology is not a static technology that fits the rigid definition, but a social and emotional platform geared toward changing the landscape of how we imagine and desire our technology to evolve with us. Every day, technology grows and changes, providing services and experiences that were previously unimaginable. Why would our definition for our desired technologies not change to grow in tandem?

Rather than engage in an intellectual argument regarding the underlying physics and electrodynamics of holography, looking forward demands a broader and more commercially focused approach – specifically, identifying how holographic systems are idealized and how they can be utilized and monetized in the real world.

A Marketplace View

As with the advent of all major market-changing technologies, the birth and creation of functional invention is preceded by economic and consumer desire. The consumer desire for a realistic augmentation and adaptation of personal life experiences is long-standing. Through ethereal experiences and stage productions, to the nearly ubiquitous memory of the Princess Leia holographic projection in Star Wars, public perception of genuine ‘reality augmentation’ relies on holographic visual systems. However, based on the common preconception of a holographic visual system, a more accurate definition would be: A volumetric optical light field, projected in open space, which allows for the perception of a user’s environment to be interrupted and augmented.

This definition will alterthe trajectory of holographic visual technology advancements. The science behind this technology is crucial, however, commercial presentation and accessibility will ultimately decide its success. As a technology with a targeted focus on manipulating a perceived human reality, fundamental requirements for adoption include a substantial content library and convenient functionalities. Historical and current examples of what are deemed successful ‘holograms,’ while captivating, must occur in sufficiently darkened and controlled light environments at fixed venues. Making these iterations of a holographic technology functional, but not convenient for mass adoption. Paired with this problem is the difficulty and expense of generating visual content or services for these venues, making them visually stimulating but with limited shelf life.

What About VR?

Some will argue that current virtual reality (VR) devices are the realization of the demand for interactive 3-D applications on a broad commercial scale. There are certainly some elements in VR platforms that deliver immersive content, but even the term ‘virtual’ belies the desire to integrate holographic images with the real-world surroundings. Everything in the VR world occurs in a rendered environment.

While VR systems do move the industry forward by enabling individuals to participate in a volumetric environment, they are also isolating. Users interact through the device in parallel with other users, often physically and socially separated by virtue of wearing goggles or headsets.

In another step forward, VR systems and some augmented reality (AR) applications have carried the ideas of integration of interactive play onto a very popular and ubiquitous display platform – the mobile phone. These small but powerful devices are seldom far from a user’s grip and have the capability to quickly render graphics of every kind – including holographic images – in real time. In addition, the app-store ecosystem, facilitated and nurtured in major mobile operating systems, sets the stage for new interactive applications and services absent the physical constraints of specialized studios, or even goggles.

Mobile and Convenient

The inherently open ecosystem of mobile devices, combined with users’ familiarity with their chosen handsets, opens the door to successful commercial holographic products and applications. The next milestone is enabling the mobile phone to become an interactive 3-D and holographic interface to catalyze content development and consumer interest. Empowering applications that break out of the physical constraints of the phone itself, enabling interaction above and beyond the limitations of the flat phone screen, will stimulate creation of new engaging visual content.

Empowering Game Developers

One market that will likely capitalize on mobile holographic display capabilities is interactive gaming. Developers are constantly challenged to retain users by reenergizing interest through the introduction of new features that outshine competitors. Many already employ sophisticated 3-D animation techniques, but are limited by the two-dimension display screen. Adding the option for a third dimension for display – combined with gesture control and advanced features, such as field-position tracking and utilization of movement data from the phone – create new and exciting possibilities that are commercially game-changing.

Regardless of the technology, consumer interest will always drive product development. Bending to the user perspective that ‘more is usually better,’ developers should rightly be concerned about the risk of overwhelming the data bandwidth capacity of mobile devices and networks. The most beautiful holographic images will underwhelm if they cannot be quickly and properly rendered due to bottlenecks.

Bandwidth Bottlenecks?

Bandwidth is a real-world constraint, but advances in digital manipulation and artificial intelligence (AI) have added some tools to the developer’s palette that can leverage the way people – and their brains – see and interpret visual information. For example, the requisite data to render a full holographic image can be substantial, but through the use of predictive algorithms and discreet AI layers, a platform can dramatically reduce the needed data by transmitting concurrent data over cloud systems and manipulating dual-core processing to dramatically increase efficiency of real-time rendering. It certainly isn’t a simple proposition, but with the regular increase in network speed and processor capability in mobile devices, it is both functional and practical.

Holography will provide an evolution for visual content that will likely present in multiple uses such as advertising, entertainment, education, and business. It will certainly be a foundation for new modes of communications and social media. It’s an open book where this nascent technology will take us, but when we can engage the imagination and skill of scores of software developers, the market demand has the potential to explode exponentially.

Redefining holograms in this way allows us, as a community, to create the idealized Augmented Reality we’ve dreamed of for decades, understand the opportunities that lie before us, and use our instincts and expertise to create solutions that satisfy escalating desires. 

Edited by Erik Linask
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