Utah engineers making moving holograms

Posted at 10:28 AM, May 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 15:42:26-04

PROVO, Utah — You've likely watched the scene from Star Wars: A New Hope where Princess Leia delivers a message in the form of a Hologram.

Now engineers at Brigham Young University in Provo are getting closer to the goal of making this a reality.

Professor Daniel Smalley and his team can now project small holographic animations into the real world.

It works by trapping a single particle in the air with a laser beam and then moving it around.

It leaves behind a trail of light that floats in mid-air, kind of like a 3D printer for light.

"You can draw images in the air that appear to be continuous in the same way that you can draw your name in the air with a sparkler," said Smalley.

To demonstrate this, the team created a virtual stick figure capable of walking along and jumping off of a student's finger.

For now, the animations are very small, at about a centimeter cubed, but the hope is to get them to about 8 inches, the same size as the Princess Leia Hologram from Star Wars.

This new development paves the way for an immersive experience where people can interact with virtual objects that exist in real life.

Smalley said, "You can imagine a teacher who just uses a regular everyday classroom globe, but now she has satellites flying back and forth over the top of it or she’s showing weather patterns and how they can move back and forth."

Future versions of this technology could also enhance video calls by bringing people into the room in the form of a hologram.

"That head could then turn and make eye contact and look at different people in the room in a way that could never happen through the abstraction of a screen," said Smalley.

Another way the BYU Professor imagines this technology being used is by projecting different images to different people.

"You could have particles that scatter differently to every viewer and give them content that’s specific to their security clearance or their native language," said Smalley.

The research group’s latest project is funded by a National Science Foundation CAREER grant.

To see more of the holography work Professor Smalley is doing with his students, check out his lab website here.