Haptic Hologram: A Vision That Can Be Touched

Remember this year’s performance of Michael Jackson at Billboard Music Awards? For those who haven’t seen it, just to be clear – it’s not another urban legend, like many about flamboyant rock star Elvis Presley. No, Michael is definitely dead, for five years now. Nevertheless, he was resurrected – with the help of hologram.

Apart from the entertainment industry, where dead legends may still be a profitable business, there are many other more practical potentials of the holographic technology, like in education, medicine, architecture, engineering, and many more.

Medicine, especially, could largely benefit from the holographic technology. Last year, technology giant Philips, in cooperation with Israeli company RealView Imaging, has developed a holographic system that was used during eight minor heart surgeries at Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel. Inside the operating room, surgeons had 3D holographic replica of the actual patient’s heart in free space, which they could manipulate, rotate and slice without the use of special 3D glasses. Holographic projections were of high resolution, visible from all angles, and within the reach of the user, ‘floating’ at the same coordinates, independent of the observer’s position. Such features allow for a precise and direct interaction with the reproduction in real time. This ‘experiment’ demonstrated the potential of this technology to provide surgeons the context and guidance during operations.

Similar system to be used for medical students’ training is developed by Cyber-Anatomy, medical education software, in collaboration with zSpace, 3D technology provider. They have created interactive 3D models of human anatomy. This is considered to be an even better platform for learning than cadavers, since organs in real bodies have tendency to shift.

The next frontier is a haptic hologram. The first step has already been made by researchers from the Department of Computer Science at the University of Bristol. By using ultrasound, they have created a device that produces air disturbances which can be perceived as an invisible 3D haptic shape you can feel under your fingers. Visually, the shape can be perceived by adding it to 3D displays.
As Dr Ben Long, the project’s leader, pointed out, „In the future, people could feel holograms of objects that would not otherwise be touchable, such as feeling the differences between materials in a CT scan or understanding the shapes of artifacts in museum.“

Predictions are that the use of mobile haptic devices will soar in the next few years due to their ability to produce a lifelike user experience. At the World Travel Market trade show, which took place in London last month, there was a general consensus among senior executives of the travel industry that in the future we may expect robots and holograms to displace the majority of human representatives in resorts around the world.

Correspondingly, we may expect that most of the information desks, receptions and similar services might be occupied by androids and holograms running on artificial intelligence platforms, rather than real people.