Ever since the futuristic flashing of holograms in countless sci-fi movies, such as Star Wars and Iron Man, we have all long-awaited the moment when three-dimensional holograms will enter our own homes and lives. Across the internet and in other media, you’re likely to have heard of innovators continuously coming up with various promising holograms. And yet, why aren’t floating holograms part of our daily lives today, in a way that smartphones are?
The closest you could get to a ‘holographic experience’ today would be by watching a movie in 3D, spending money on Google Glass or acquiring Microsoft’s HoloLens. However, to experience any of the aforementioned 3D magic, special glasses are required, and that can be quite a nuisance. So how long do we still have to wait until we can experience groovy holograms without the need of any gadget-glasses?
As it happens, recently, on the 22nd April 2015, a paper was published on Nature Communications by collaborating researchers from Australian and Chinese Universities and Institutes; it announced the creation of a hologram that can be seen with bare eyes.
At 1 cm large, the colourful 3D image was generated by a hologram display (the plane from which the hologram is constructed), and had an impressive extended viewing angle of 52 degrees (the maximum angle at which the hologram could be seen with acceptable quality). This means that if you were to look at the hologram, you could move your head 52 degrees
in any direction from a specific ‘holographic point’, and see the hologram as it appears from a different aspect. This is definitely an improvement on holographic displays based on liquid crystals, which are limited to viewing angles of only a few degrees.
So how does this miniature hologram display really work? The technicality of the actual hologram generation is reasonably complex - at the end of the day, the researchers based their hologram display on a Nobel Prize-winning holography principle formulated by Denis Gabor.
Nevertheless, the very (very) basic idea behind this specific hologram generation is basing the hologram display on graphene oxide, a form of a carbon and oxygen compound, and ‘bombing’ it with femtosecond short laser beams. The energy from controlled laser ‘bombing’ would be absorbed by the graphene oxide, and would produce an optical illusion on our eyes: the 3D hologram.
Professors Gu and Li, researchers involved in the hologram project, write that “there is no limitation for the up scalability of this technique”, indicating that their 1 cm small hologram has a potential to grow not just in size, but also in application.
Most obviously, their hologram technology has the potential for transforming two-dimensional mobile, tablet and wearable technology screens into digital displays that are able to generate 3D holograms. It also presents a wide range of potential uses in the military and security management, in transforming personal identification and security labels.
The most amazing and promising thing predicted by the researchers about this innovation, is that their developed graphene oxide hologram displays will bump-up to a “tens of centimetre scale” within 5 years! So if you’d rather wear a watch that appeared to show the time floating in mid-air, then you will not have to wait long until you can access holograms on your smartphone!