Despite what your eyes might lead you to believe, most of the “holograms” you’ve seen rely on optical illusions instead of real holographic technology. For example, the “hologram” of Tupac that appeared at Coachella in 2012 was just a two-dimensional image projection. It relied on a 19th century optical illusion called Pepper’s Ghost that makes use of glass mirrors and a bit of stage magic.
Researchers have been working on true holographic imaging for years, but this week a Korean research team actually made it happen and produced the world’s first 360-degree color hologram. The tabletop holographic display can be viewed all the way around in full color, and the view changes from every angle. It may seem simple, but the ability to project a fully 3D hologram that can be viewed just like a real object is something that wasn’t possible until now.
The 3-inch hologram is projected within the tabletop display unit thanks to a series of high-powered multicolor lasers. The floating image relies on diffraction generated by the interference between the many lasers in the complex system. Although it’s a simple image of a Rubik’s Cube, the floating hologram can be seen from any angle, 360 degrees around. A previous holographic invention out of MIT had a visible radian of 20 degrees, which isn’t exactly a proper hologram but was as close as most technologists could get.
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The hologram development comes out of a collaboration between 16 different researchers, development groups, and financial backers. The research has been ongoing since 2013, when Giga KOREA announced the Digital Holographic Tabletop Terminal Technology Development project. Their ultimate goal is to implement a ten-inch holographic television set by 2021, and the Electronic and Telecommunications Research Institute (ETRI) has been leading the holo-tech charge ever since.
A holographic television may still be far off, but developments in realistic hologram technology could make a big change in fields from visual communications to the arts. Of course, the ETRI still has work to do to perfect the technology. They’ll need to be able to visualize more complex images in three dimensional, 360-degrees displays, for one. According to the ETRI team, technology to develop, send, and receive these kinds of holograms over a 5G network is already underway.