These are not your father's holograms

Holograms have been part of the business and science community's toolset for some time but Microsoft is highlighting just how advanced they have become lately.

Smartphone chip beams real hologram
Credit: 20th Century Fox

Oh, the irony. Now that Microsoft has piqued everyone's interest in holograms with the recent update on the progress of its HoloLens, visions of what this technology can do for business and scientific endeavors are seemingly everywhere. In fact, holograms have been used in business and scientific settings over the last several years. My personal favorite example: Forever 21's first hologram fashion show back in 2011.

Microsoft, though, has rejuvenated the conversation about what this technology can offer -- and more importantly highlighted the advancements that holograms have made since Forever 21's holo-models made their debut.

The latest buzz around holograms began when Microsoft unveiled the HoloLens a few months ago. That buzz then developed into a soft roar at the recent Microsoft Build Developer Conference, where Microsoft showed off the progress it has since made with the HoloLens. (Briefly, the HoloLens is a headset with a see-through display that allows users to see holograms in their real-world environments.) Microsoft also debuted at Build its HoloLens platform for developers, which will be supported by Windows 10.

The platform can adapt Windows 10 apps to run on the HoloLens. As Microsoft says in its blog post on the subject "… holograms are Windows universal apps, and all Windows universal apps can be made to work as holograms."

For example, one partner spotlight, by Trimble, showed how the company uses HoloLens to visualize building designs for customers as they would appear amid real world objects and landscapes.

It is exciting stuff and that enthusiasm is also serving to highlight the other, separate developments and their potential contributions to the business community as well.

Wide angle holograms

Rayvel, which specializes in advanced holographics, was recently awarded a patent for its wide angle hologram technology that enables the production of compact holographic displays.

This is how Rayvel explains the problem it takes on with its technology:

A hologram appears when it is illuminated from a light source at an angle that is determined during the manufacturing process. Typically it is a source at about a 45 degree angle from the hologram. It also usually needs to be placed at a distance from the hologram: the larger the hologram the further away the light source needs to be. This new invention allows the light source to be nearly parallel and close to the hologram, allowing the design of significantly flatter image display systems, useful for advertising signage, point-of-purchase, and trade shows.

Rayvel also has patents for its inventions related to narrow angle holograms -- technology that illuminates a hologram from a perpendicular light source, such as a headlight from an oncoming vehicle.

There is already a viable application for this technology: Rayvel's own Holocator product, which allows emergency vehicles to see street address numbers in the dark. This technology can also be used for angular alignment of objects moving towards each other, such as a spacecraft trying to dock squarely with the space station, Rayvel explains.

Touchable holograms

Another example is provided by the U.K. company Ultrahaptics, which recently closed on $918,000 in seed round funding. The proceeds will be used to improve the computing power and performance of the Ultrahaptic device, which has a range of uses -- including the intriguing concept of touchable holograms.

The technology uses ultrasonic haptic technology to project the sensations, which people are able to feel.

The device is still in the prototype stage but it is already in the process of being licensed by several companies. One of these is Volkswagen, which showed off one of its concept cars equipped with the technology at this year's Consumer Electronics Show. Called the Golf R Touch, the car has a cockpit that can be guided with touchless, gestural interfaces.

Ultrahaptic was at CES too, but remained somewhat in the background as people flocked around the sexy cars and gadgets and toys. It will probably be different for them at next year's CES, along with slew of other startups specializing in this space, as advanced holograms do their bit to change the world.

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