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Holographic imaging breakthrough: the next best thing to being there, in 3D

Researchers have developed near-real-time transmission of holographic images, which enable viewing of people or objects from a variety of angles.
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Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Telepresence is a growing initiative in the business space, and common solutions range from large-screen, high-resolution monitors to telepresence robots.  Now, it may be possible to actually have a physical, three-dimensional presence transmitted to at a remote site, in live 3D form that can be viewed from all directions, just like a physical object.

Researchers at the University of Arizona (UA), Tucson, announced that they have developed a holographic system that can transmit a series of 3D images in near-real-time, a precursor to holographic videoconferencing.

The system incorporates a photorefractive polymer--one that can rapidly refresh holographic images and is scalable for production--coupled to a unique system for recording and transmitting 3D images of individuals and objects via Ethernet.

Screaming video: Image of an F4 Phantom fighter jet created with the new 3-D telepresence system.

"New technique for three-dimensional telepresence... we can take objects and show them in 3D in near real-time," says Nasser Peyghambarian of UA and the Director of NSF's multi-institution Engineering Research Center for Integrated Access Networks (CIAN). "The advantage of this technology is the fact that we have a large number of perspectives -- 16 perspectives," versus the two perspectives (for each eye) seen in a typical 3D movie. The 16 perspectives come from placement of 16 cameras around the object, he points out.

Potential applications include a system can have an important impact on telepresence, telemedicine, engineering design and manufacturing, and other applications. an early and tremendously important outcome from this three-year old center."

One potential application is remote tele-surgery. The technology "allows you to look at different aspects. In surgery, the cameras could be sitting around where the surgery is done," says Peyghambarian. In another example, "a car manufacturer can design a prototype of the computer, look at it, so he can actually see that object in 3D. You can take parts and change those parts, and see how that works. This is an application that does not require video rate. Two seconds per frame might be enough."

Entertainment and 3D mapping are other industry application areas that may benefit, Peyghambarian says. "This advance brings us a step closer to the ultimate goal of realistic holographic telepresence with high-resolution, full-color, human-size, 3D images that can be sent at video refresh rates from one part of the world to the other."

The challenge before the technology can be commercialized for everyday use is speed, Peyghambarian says. The researchers had previously demonstrated a refreshable polymer display system, but it could refresh images only once every four minutes. The new system can refresh images every two seconds; while not yet ideal for a display, the rate is more than one hundred times faster. "This system needs to be improved to be commercialized," including increasing the number of frames in the video rate, Peyghambarian explains.

Image size and scaling in another area that needs to be enhanced. "We need to increase the size of the image, says Peyghambarian. "At the time, the largest size is about 17 inches. A true telepresence needs to be six feet to eight feet, the size of a person. The color capacity and resolution also needs to be improved, and "require less light to write the image." While the current refresh rate for multi-color display is even slower than for monochromatic images, the development suggests a true 3D, multicolor system may be feasible.

Peyghambarian says that it will still be several years until the technology enters mass production. "In don't think you'll be able to see these in your houses in less than seven to 10 years." New materials and new laser development will take two to three years, along with another two to three years to develop the technology into products.

A video interview with Peyghambarian is available on the National Science Foundation Website.

Photo, bottom: National Science Foundation

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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