Credit by Sarah Murray
3D images that can be manipulated with hand gestures blur the digital and real world.
Until recently, delivering hands-on training to aircraft mechanics meant bringing trainees into a hangar to see a plane under maintenance and removing the engine’s cover to allow them to look inside. At Japan Airlines, however, trainees using HoloLens, Microsoft’s “mixed reality” headset, can observe the different parts of an aircraft engine virtually.
Whether applied in an industrial setting, in gaming or by consumers — for example to see how a new kitchen might look in their home — use of holograms in augmented reality (AR) is being pursued by a growing number of companies.
Not all the AR devices being developed use holograms, in the technical sense — photographic recordings of a light field. “Most of what you’re seeing are not actually holograms,” says Michael Bove, principal research scientist at the object-based media Group at MIT Media Lab. “Hologram has a specific meaning to people in the 3D display community, while to people in the marketing community, it means any three-dimensional image.”
Other forms of AR are based on similar principles. “It combines computer-generated graphics with what’s going on in the real world,” says Paul Merritt, a technology specialist, based in PA Consulting Group’s Cambridge Technology Centre. This is what distinguishes AR from virtual reality (VR). While users of VR wear goggles or headsets to become immersed in a 3D world, AR technologies place 3D virtual objects in real physical space and allow groups of people to interact with them, opening up the potential for collaboration.
Meanwhile, when it comes to devices, different approaches are emerging. While some are focusing on developing headsets, others are trying to avoid the use of wearable equipment. At Looking Glass, this drives company’s approach. Its HoloPlayer One device displays interactive 3D images without the need for goggles or headsets.
“We have a philosophical belief that the real world should be prioritised over going into 3D digital space,” says Mr Frayne.
Regardless of the type of device used, the ability to manipulate virtual objects using voice or gesture will change the way people interact with technology, freeing them from the need to use screens, keyboards and mice. “If I can use gesture and touch, it’s not so much a computer any more, it’s a whole system,” says Mr Merritt.
For Mr Sullivan, the ability to interact with holograms in the same way as with other physical objects will bring people closer to their natural instincts for communication.
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