Holograms in Real Life: How the Technology Works and Industry Use Cases

Feb 3, 2021 5:51:15 AM

You all remember Princess Leia, appearing as a floating image in the early episodes of Star Wars. Sometime in the 80s, a broader audience was introduced to the word ‘hologram’.

For years, it seemed like holograms would be confined to the corner of science fiction forever. However, very recently, things have begun to change thanks to advances in optical technology.

What is hologram technology?

In real life, holograms are virtual three-dimensional images created by the interference of light beams that reflect real physical objects. Holograms preserve the depth, parallax, and other properties of the original item. They are great for presenting complex technical concepts as well as showcasing visually appealing products.

Simply put, holograms are three-dimensional images generated by interfering beams of light that reflect real, physical objects. Unlike conventional 3D projections, holograms can be seen with the naked eye. 

There are two ways to create holograms: via computer - with augmented reality glasses, and physical - for optical displays. Depending on which method is used, there are two types of holograms - stereotypical and realistic.

Stereotypical holograms 

The most common and recognizable example of a stereotypical hologram is Microsoft HoloLens. In 2015, Microsoft became the first company to introduce the HoloLens holographic glasses. The technology that the tech giant unveiled is widely used today to create augmented reality

To create holograms for HoloLens, content creators use HoloStudio software. Users can import models from other services or create 3D objects themselves with the help of the app. In short, you can use HoloLens to create complex virtual objects. In turn, these objects are superimposed on the imagery of the surrounding world through the use of virtual reality glasses.

The result is an image that appears very similar to Pokemon Go. The only difference is that in HoloLens, rather than seeing fantastical dinosaurs, you are deploying a virtual workspace, an educational office, or a virtual conference with colleagues. 

HoloLens makes this possible by linking AR objects with traditional computer programs for work and entertainment. Check out this short demo for more information about holographic technology.

Realistic holograms

In 1947, Dennis Gabor a Hungarian-British physicist developed today’s modern hologram theory while working on an electron microscope. However, optical holography didn't really advance until the advent of the laser in 1960. A laser emits a potent burst of light that only lasts a few nanoseconds.

This makes it possible to obtain holograms of high-velocity events, such as an arrow or bullet in flight. The first laser-based human hologram was created in 1967, which paved the way for numerous other applications of holographic technology.

So, how do holograms work? Holography is a unique method of photography whereby 3D objects are recorded using a laser and then restored as precisely as possible to match the originally recorded object. When illuminated via a laser, holograms are able to form an exact 3D clone of the object and duplicate its features. 

In order to produce an accurate visualization of a hologram at a certain point in space, two light waves must be coordinated in motion - a reference wave and an object wave. Both are formed by separating the laser beam.

The reference wave is created directly by the light source, and the object wave is reflected from the recorded object. There is also a photographic plate on which dark stripes are "imprinted" depending on the distribution of electromagnetic energy (interference) in a given place. 

A similar process takes place on ordinary photographic film. However, to reproduce an image from it, a printout on photographic paper is required. However, during the active use of a hologram, everything happens a little differently.

To reproduce a "portrait", the photographic plate has to be "illuminated" with another light wave in close proximity to the reference wave, which converts both waves into a new wave of light that runs alongside the object wave. The result is an almost entirely accurate reflection of the object itself. For a better understanding of how holograms are produced, watch this short video.

What are some of the most common industry use cases?

Holographic technology is used in a variety of ways, across several industries. The list below includes some of the most popularized examples:

1. Telecommunications

In 2017, Verizon (USA) and Korea Telecom (South Korea) made the first holographic call using 5G technology. To make the call possible, two holograms were formed. Both fully capable of conveying the user's emotions and gestures.

2. Education

In 2015, the Nobel laureate and professor of physics at Stanford University, Karl Wieman, spoke at Nanyang Technological University (Singapore) without leaving the United States.
In 2013, St George's University of London introduced holograms capable of displaying the working organs of a human body. The presentation showcased three-dimensional images of kidneys four meters in length, a skull, and other parts of the body.

3. Spatial navigation

In 2017, scientists from the Munich University of Technology developed a method for obtaining three-dimensional holograms using a Wi-Fi router. The method described in the study allows for creating copies of premises by displaying objects around them. This technology can be used to find and rescue victims trapped under an avalanche or within collapsed buildings.

4. Marketing and direct sales

Product holograms are a new marketing ploy to grab the attention of customers. With the help of a hologram, you can enlarge a 3D copy of a product and make it viewable from all sides. This is convenient for customers who want to see their desired purchase in full detail.

In 2017, Barbie presented a holographic robotic doll that responds to voice commands. The toy was able to respond to questions about the weather and discuss other topics.

5. Music shows

A hologram of Eric Prydz's face acted as the closing of his EPIC 5.0 show in London, 2017. The performance of the popular French DJ was accompanied by an impressive laser show. At the end of the evening, over 300 lasers formed a volumetric hologram of the DJ's head. From then on, the DJ’s shows were always accompanied by the use of holograms to create a unique atmosphere.

6. The return of historical figures

In 2012, Digital Domain studio, specializing in VFX for de-aging Hollywood stars in movies, brought Tupac Shakur back to life as an exceptional 3D hologram. Using an actor and body double, they created animations for a lifelike digital avatar of Tupac. In 2014, Tupac appeared at Coachella in his digital human form. 

As with Tupac or any other educational project such as creating a virtual history museum, producing holograms requires additional planning and coordination. First, these holograms are created based on the use of unique digital avatars for individuals who left us a long time ago.

Creating 3D models, animating movements, and synthesizing authentic voices is no simple task. In the case of the latter, Respeecher can dramatically reduce the cost and time span associated with reproducing an authentic voice. In other words, we can not only bring back Tupac's voice from the past, but it is also possible to create new authentic content as if the singer were still with us. Interested in learning more? Here’s how we can help.

The future of holographic technology

The future of holography lies at the intersection of AI, digital human technology, and voice cloning. The consistent increase in worldwide computing power will allow for the creation of digital human models that will render at an ever-accelerating pace that will make them more and more difficult to tell apart from real ones.

In turn, the evolution of holographic technologies will lead to their increasing availability and portability. Imagine if holographic content could one day be as accessible as streaming content: holographic cinema, holographic theater, music shows.

Augmented reality will no longer require wearing special glasses but will be directly integrated into landscape objects. We already know how holographic pedestrian crossings and holographic advertising work. But we can only imagine how our cities and lives will be changed as the evolutionary pace of technology continues to accelerate.

author
Alex Serdiuk
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