How holograms work

By: Rachelle Dragani

New software makes creating 3-D images easier and more cost effective.

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When people think of holograms, they often envision a couple of things. The first one is pop culture fun: Princess Leia making a plea for help to Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars” or maybe Tupac back from the great beyond rapping at Coachella. The second is less thrilling, but more prevalent: those tiny security squares embossed onto credit cards.

Neither of those things is actually a 3-D hologram in the true sense of the word. Actual 3-D holography is more complex and has traditionally been created on a large soundstage to ensure a high quality image. With volumetric capture software becoming more affordable and data transmission speeds increasing with 5G, more people will be able to utilize 3-D images. The technology is well positioned to impact numerous business verticals, including medicine, retail and entertainment.

Holography was invented in the 1940s and came into its own in the early 1960s, thanks to the invention of the laser. Unlike other light sources, lasers are able to create powerful, radiant bursts that can effectively freeze a three-dimensional moment in time. Holography captures the moments where light bounces off an object from several different perspectives, resulting in a 3-D image.

So what’s the difference between a hologram, the sticker on your credit card and Tupac’s Coachella rap? Tupac’s onstage appearance is actually a version of a 19th-century technique known as Pepper’s Ghost, which uses reflected images to create ghostly illusions. That sticker on the card in your wallet is a layered image that suggests three dimensions, but is more of a visual trick.

These days real holograms are made by capturing images from multiple cameras and combining them into one. The startup company Evercoast (which has demonstrated its work at Verizon’s 5G Labs) has learned how to create a 3-D image at a manageable price.

“What we’ve done is take this kind of technology that has been used on very large, Hollywood-caliber stages and miniaturized it to make it scalable, much more cost-effective, to the point where you can bring it to a conference room in an office or even on your laptop in a coffee shop,” says Ben Nunez, co-founder and CEO of Evercoast.

How does it work? A subject, such as an HR executive about to present corporate training or a prospective customer trying on a dress, steps in the middle of a depth-sensing camera rig. For a very high quality image, there may be as many as 30 cameras used, but often less than half that number are needed. The subject (or object) is showered with infrared light and the resulting visual and color data are relayed to Evercoast’s software that reconstructs it into a 3-D model. Unlike the sticker on your credit card, you can walk all the way around that image and see it from every angle.

The practical applications for this technology are wide-ranging. In the field of medicine, holographic bodies can provide powerful learning tools for students and first responders. Holographic organ scans can minimize the damage done from invasive diagnostic procedures. Airlines and shipping companies can use holographic scanning to efficiently load planes and trucks, making the job of a shipping manager easier. Hate trying on clothes? Volumetric capture could allow your favorite store to let you know exactly how a certain outfit will look on you from every angle.

Nunez explains that 5G speed and capacity will be vital for handling the vast amounts of data that volumetric capture requires. With a faster network, the world can edge closer to a world where barriers between screens and real life blur.

“We fundamentally believe we are going from a world of 2-D content and communications to a world of 3-D,” Nunez says. “Mostly everything we see on a screen today is 2-D, but just about anything you can imagine that’s been captured in 2-D we believe will evolve into 3-D.”

For more information, see:

Evercoast

5G Helps bring holograms to life

5 Surprising Ways Holograms are revolutionizing the world

Pepper’s ghost explained

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About the author(s): 

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn who regularly covers science, technology and innovation. Her work has appeared in TIME Magazine, Gizmodo, and Popular Mechanics.

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