Holographic technology is coming of age: beyond cutting-edge

  • Turkish scientists create the world’s first realistic 3D hologram
  • A German circus has replaced all of its animals with 3D holograms
  • Microsoft has developed a hologram that allows you to speak a foreign language
  • Andrew Yang plans to use a hologram in his presidential campaign
  • Is holographic technology ready for the mainstream?

3D holograms have long been a staple of science fiction movies and TV shows like Star Wars and Star Trek. However, the realm of fiction is where they have remained until recently, as we haven’t been able to create realistic holographic projections. The technology that we had at our disposal at the time simply wasn’t advanced enough to allow us to do that. That is starting to change, though.

Holographic technology once again entered the spotlight in 2012, when a hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur appeared on stage at Coachella to perform a song alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg, leaving the audience mesmerised. Since then, the excitement surrounding the technology has grown considerably and a number of innovative holographic solutions appeared on the market.

An infographic showing the predicted value of the global digital holography market in 2023.
A recent report by Market Research Future estimates that the value of the global digital holography market will reach $7.5 billion by 2023.

Even though they still haven’t become quite as ubiquitous as AI or robots for example, holograms are becoming increasingly popular and they are starting to find practical applications in many different fields, including entertainment, medicine, and education. According to a recent report published by Market Research Future, the global digital holography market is predicted to reach approximately $7.5 billion by the end of 2023.

Turkish scientists create the world’s first realistic 3D hologram

3D holographic projection requires back-to-back stacking of a large number of 2D images to produce a realistic picture. However, as these images often cross-talk, they tend to create interference between the constituent layers, making the 3D projection fuzzy and not very realistic. For years, researchers have been trying to solve this problem by developing better optical technology. However, as it turns out, the answer was actually hiding in mathematics all along. A team of scientists from Bilkent University in Turkey recently announced that they have found a way to project highly realistic holograms that can be viewed from any angle.

“It was not possible to simultaneously project a 3D object’s back, middle and front parts. We solve this issue through a simple connection between the equations developed by Jean-Baptiste Joseph Fourier and Augustin-Jean Fresnel in the early days of the field. Using this math property, we advance the state-of-the-art from the projection of 3-4 images to 1000 simultaneous projections,” explains Prof. Onur Tokel, the other co-leader.

According to scientists, the holograms are already superior to previously developed technologies in every measurable metric and will only get better as display technologies continue to improve and support ever higher resolutions. They could have a wide variety of useful applications, including medical visualisation, air traffic control, laser-material interactions, and microscopy. “Our technique can work in real time, and will surely pave the way to dynamic 3D video holography,” says Dr. Ghaith Makey, the lead author of the paper.

A German circus has replaced all of its animals with 3D holograms

The life of a circus animal can be incredibly harsh. Often raised in captivity, kept in chains or small cages, abused, and forced to perform unnatural tricks, these poor animals live in a constant state of fear and discomfort. As the public became increasingly aware of the plight of circus animals, people started protesting these cruel conditions and demanding change. The protests seem to have worked, as more than 40 countries around the world have now placed restrictions on animal performances or banned them altogether. But one German circus has found a way to keep the show going without subjecting animals to unnecessary pain and suffering.

Founded in 1976, Circus Roncalli started slowly phasing out live animals from its shows in the 1990s, before removing them entirely in 2018 and replacing them with 3D holograms. Today, clowns and trapeze artists are joined on stage by incredibly realistic holographic projections of elephants, galloping horses, and, rather strangely, giant goldfish. “We decided against having the animals for the benefit of the animals,” says Markus Strobl, media director of Circus Roncalli. “Most of the numbers in the show would already be done by the artists and clowns today anyway. The focus of the Circus Roncalli is on poetic and acrobatic numbers.”

The decision to replace real animals with holograms turned out to be a good one, as the show attracted more than 600,000 visitors in 2018 alone. It took more than $500,000 to develop the show, which uses 11 laser projectors and specialised lenses to allow everyone seated around the ring to see the holographic animals in all of their glory. Circus Roncalli has been hailed by many as the circus of the future. “Thankfully the public is voting with their feet, and increasingly visiting shows where the performers get to choose instead of being forced to perform,” says Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International. “This is the future of circus — a performance everyone can enjoy and for which intelligent, sentient beings are not used and depicted as objects of entertainment.”

Microsoft has developed a hologram that allows you to speak a foreign language

Learning to speak a foreign language can be a challenging proposition. But what if there was a way to speak another language without actually having to learn it? During a keynote speech at the latest Microsoft Inspire partner conference in Las Vegas, Microsoft demonstrated a new piece of technology that could drastically reduce barriers in human communication by allowing anyone to speak just about any language fluently, or at least appear to do so.

Using a combination of mixed reality and neural text-to-speech technologies, Microsoft was able to create a highly realistic, life-sized hologram of a person that can speak another language in that person’s own voice. During the demo, Microsoft Azure executive Julia White walked on stage wearing a HoloLens headset and proceeded to conjure a miniature holographic replica of herself in her hand. The hologram was then blown up to full size and started delivering the keynote speech in Japanese, a language White doesn’t actually speak.

To make this possible, White first had to visit one of the company’s Mixed Reality capture studios and record delivering her presentation in English. Microsoft then used its neural text-to-speech technology to create White’s personalised voice signature, which allows the hologram to say anything in any language and make it seem as if it was actually White speaking. As impressive as it sounds, it’s going to be a while before this technology goes mainstream. At this point, it requires access to a Mixed Reality capture studio and HoloLens headsets, which isn’t something most people have lying around their homes. However, as technology advances further and becomes more accessible, holographic solutions such as these could have major implications for many different fields, including communications, travel, and international business.

Andrew Yang plans to use a hologram in his presidential campaign

Presidential campaigns in the United States require candidates to travel across the country to meet and interact with prospective voters, which can be very costly and time-consuming. However, one presidential candidate has found a way to lighten his burden and it involves a hologram.

Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang, who is best known for his proposal to introduce a universal basic income, recently announced plans to use a 3D hologram to campaign remotely in key battleground states like Iowa, which would allow him to appear in several places at once. Revealed for the first time during a segment on TMZ, the hologram would be beamed onto the back of a truck and deliver a pre-recorded stump speech to the audience. After the speech, Yang himself could them beam in while sitting somewhere in a studio to take questions from the audience and interact with them in real time. There is also a possibility that other politicians and celebrities could appear alongside Yang as holograms at certain events to make them more fun and entertaining for people.

“I thought it would be a fun way to be in multiple places at once, and also very much tied into the message of the campaign around the fact that it is 2019, and soon it will be 2020, and things are changing, and we can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again and expect it to achieve the results we need,” says Yang. However, the hologram is not meant to replace in-person stops, which will proceed as scheduled, but to add excitement to the campaign and raise awareness about the impact of disruptive technologies.

Is holographic technology ready for the mainstream?

Holographic technology has advanced considerably in recent years. Once thought of as just another passing fad that would never reach mainstream appeal, holograms are now finally starting to fulfill their promise. From holographic circus animals and politicians to holograms that allow you to speak a foreign language, the technology has found a number of practical applications in many different fields. Even though that they still haven’t achieved widespread adoption, there is no doubt that holograms have the potential to be a game-changer. And as technology continues to advance and holograms become even more realistic, it would come as no surprise to see them become an indispensable part of our everyday lives.

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This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

This article is written by Richard van Hooijdonk

Trendwatcher, futurist and international keynote speaker Richard van Hooijdonk takes you to an inspiring future that will dramatically change the way we live, work and do business.

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