Entering a New Dimension: Holy Holograms! the Next Frontier in Display Technology Promises to Bring a Swirl of Changes to the 21st-Century Classroom

By Starkman, Neal | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), May 2007 | Go to article overview

Entering a New Dimension: Holy Holograms! the Next Frontier in Display Technology Promises to Bring a Swirl of Changes to the 21st-Century Classroom


Starkman, Neal, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


"I'm about to show you some stuff that's just ready to come out of the lab." Jeff Han tells his audience. "I really think this is going to change the way we interact with machines."

A research scientist with New York University's department of computer science, Hart has generally focused his attention on real-time computer graphics, but lately he's been hard at work on what he calls "multi-touch interaction research."

He stands over a large screen that lies on a 36-inch-wide drafting table. The table, Han explains, is equipped with a multi-touch sensor, and when he runs his fingers over the screen, it projects a series of images onto a larger screen behind him. The technology allows Han to do a variety of magical things, including moving around and expanding photographs and icons at will. He can also construct a two-dimensional keyboard right on the screen and use it as he would a three-dimensional keyboard. The coolest thing is the lava-lamp effect he creates, "heating up" the "lava" with his fingers and causing globules to pulsate and move about.

What Han likes about the application is its intuitiveness. And, he explains to the audience, "our technique provides unprecedented resolution and scalability."

What's the upshot of this new display wizardry? If Han is right, only the extinction of one of our most cherished and longstanding pieces of electronic technology--the keyboard. What this means for the classroom of the 21st century will be transforming. Instead of writing and erasing on blackboards, or using a stylus on interactive whiteboards, teachers and students will use their fingers and hands to manipulate information and create presentations. Han says he anticipates a time when the keyboard is a dim memory.

So, it appears, does Microsoft Research's Andy Wilson, who's working on a tool similar to Han's, an interactive touch screen called TouchLight. Wilson says the program takes a normal sheet of acrylic plastic and transforms it into what he says is "a high-bandwidth input/output surface suitable for gesture-based interaction."

The way it works, a man approaches the touch screen, lays his hands on it, and creates the same lava-lamp effect that Jeff Han did. But he does something else. He holds a document up to the screen, and a camera takes a snapshot of it. He removes the document, but the image remains. Now he can move the image around, expand it, shrink it, and pretty much have it do as he wishes. The image has become 3-D.

The future this technology forecasts seems as paranormal as it is revolutionary. As Wilson describes it, it's a future in which "potentially any surface in the world is a site of input and computation, and the very displays we use and spaces we inhabit are aware of our presence."

Wilson says that standard desktop computing--chair, desk, keyboard, machine--will be supplanted by mobile, "casual" computing, in which displays are "annexed as needed" according to where the user is and what the user wishes to do. "In the future," he says, "computation will be everywhere."

Coming Attractions

If the keyboard is on its way out, what will become of the screen? David Thornburg thinks it's not far behind. It's Thornburg's job and pleasure, as the director of the Thornburg Center in Lake Barrington, IL, to keep up with technology trends, particularly those in educational technology. In addition, Thornburg was involved with the creation of the federal E-Rate program, and he has been an ed tech commentator for PBS. He says he sees breakthroughs in 3-D displays coming in the next five years, such as the Heliodisplay, developed by Chad Dyner, CEO of IO2 Technology. In an interview, Dyner described the Heliodisplay this way:

"The Heliodisplay transforms ambient air using a proprietary multi-stage system of modifying the optical characteristics within a planar region in which polychromatic light is scattered on this surface such that the image appears visible to the viewer. …

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