Holographic Videoconferencing: The Next Breakthrough in Digital Communications May Be 3-D and 360

Article excerpt

Imagine having a long-distance conversation with a colleague who, to your eyes and ears, appears to be right in front you. Now, 3-D telepresence has moved closer to reality, thanks to research by the University of Arizona and supported by the National Science Foundation.

The system they are working on features a holographic video display that refreshes every two seconds. That two-second refresh rate represents a huge step up from where the technology was a couple of years ago, when the display refreshed once every four minutes.

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A three-dimensional image of a moving person or object, with 360-degree viewing capability, projected from afar in something approximating real time, could represent a major breakthrough in communications technology. Unlike depictions of holograms in popular science-fiction movies, however, the images are not projected into empty space but onto a transparent sheet of plastic--a key part of the process.

"The heart of the system is a new plastic material that we have come up with which we call ... a photorefractive polymer," says Nasser Peyghambarian, project leader and chair of photonics and lasers at the University of Arizona. Peyghambarian is also the director of the National Science Foundation's Engineering Research Center for Integrated Access Networks.

As new images are "written" on the polymer screens, old ones are erased. The material is also able to store the projected images, and, unlike face-to-face conversations, there is a pause button. Viewers can circle the projection and view it practically in its entirety, which results in a more realistic simulation.

The process begins with 16 computer-controlled cameras arranged in a semicircle around the person or object, taking two-dimensional pictures from different angles simultaneously. "The 16 views are processed into hogel data by the host computer and sent to the holographic recording controller through an Ethernet link," Peyghambarian explains. …

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