New Holographic Display Hacks The Light Field

[Petapixel] has an interesting post about a startup company’s new holographic display that claims to be “indistinguishable from reality.” The company behind it, Light Field Labs, claims their system requires no glasses and handles different angles.

You can see a bit in the [C|Net] video below, but — of course — being on YouTube, you can’t get a sense for how good the 3D effect is.

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3D Printed Lenticular Lens Makes 3D Display

[Bitluni] has been experimenting with resin printing lenses — in particular, lenticular lenses. You’ve probably seen lenticular lenses before in 3D greeting cards or children’s books. By presenting a slightly different image at different angles, your eyes perceive stereo vision giving the illusion of depth. You can see his results in the video below.

Honestly, even if you don’t want to make a display like this yourself, the demonstration of how a lenticular lens works using a laser is worth watching. Sure, you know in theory what’s going on, but seeing it visually exposed is great.

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Supercon: Alex Hornstein’s Adventures In Hacking The Lightfield

We are all familiar with the idea of a hologram, either from the monochromatic laser holographic images you’ll find on your bank card or from fictional depictions such as Princes Leia’s distress message from Star Wars. And we’ve probably read about how the laser holograms work with a split beam of coherent light recombined to fall upon a photographic plate. They require no special glasses or headsets and  possess both stereoscopic and spatial 3D rendering, in that you can view both the 3D Princess Leia and your bank’s logo or whatever is on your card as 3D objects from multiple angles. So we’re all familar with that holographic end product, but what we probably aren’t so familiar with is what they represent: the capture of a light field.

In his Hackaday Superconference talk, co-founder and CTO of holographic display startup Looking Glass Factory Alex Hornstein introduced us to the idea of the light field, and how its capture is key to  the understanding of the mechanics of a hologram.

Capturing the light field with a row of GoPro cameras.
Capturing the light field with a row of GoPro cameras.

His first point is an important one, he expands the definition of a hologram from its conventional form as one of those monochromatic laser-interference photographic images into any technology that captures a light field. This is, he concedes, a contentious barrier to overcome. To do that he first has to explain what a light field is.

When we take a 2D photograph, we capture all the rays of light that are incident upon something that is a good approximation to a single point, the lens of the camera involved. The scene before us has of course countless other rays that are incident upon other points or that are reflected from surfaces invisible from the single point position of the 2D camera. It is this complex array of light rays which makes up the light field of the image, and capturing it in its entirety is key to manipulating the result. This is true no matter the technology used to bring it to the viewer. A light field capture can be used to generate variable focus 2D images after the fact as is the case with the Lytro cameras, or it can be used to generate a hologram in the way that he describes.

One possible future use of the technology, a virtual holographic aquarium.
One possible future use of the technology, a virtual holographic aquarium.

The point of his talk is that complex sorcery isn’t required to capture a light field, something he demonstrates in front of the audience with a volunteer and a standard webcam on a sliding rail. Multiple 2D images are taken at different points, which can be combined to form a light field. The fact that not every component of the light field has been captured doesn’t matter as much as that there is enough to create the holographic image from the point of view of the display. And since he happens to be head honcho at a holographic display company he can show us the result. Looking Glass Factory’s display panel uses a lenticular lens to combine the multiple images into a hologram, and is probably one of the most inexpensive ways to practically display this type of image.

Since the arrival of the Lytro cameras a year or two ago the concept of a light field is one that has been in the air, but has more often been surrounded by an air of proprietary marketing woo. This talk breaks through that to deliver a clear explanation of the subject, and is a fascinating watch. Alex leaves us with news of some of the first light field derived video content being put online and with some decidedly science-fiction possible futures for the technology. Even if you aren’t planning to work in this field, you will almost certainly encounter it over the next few years.

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Inexpensive Display Jumps To Life

If you’ve ever been to a local fair or amusement park, chances are you’ve seen an illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost. To perform the illusion, essentially all that’s needed is a thin sheet of plastic or one-way mirror and a light source. Get it right, and you’ll have apparitions popping up in all kinds of interesting places. With just the right software, though, one of those places could be in your own 3D display.

Using just a tablet and a sheet of plastic rolled into a cone, a three-person team was able to create a 3D display using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. Using special software that the team developed, an image is altered so that when it reflects off of the plastic cone the image appears as a 3D rendering of the original picture. The rendering is perspective-correct and offers a novel way to interact with a 3D model without needing expensive equipment or special glasses.

If you do have some fancy equipment sitting around, like a computer monitor and some plexiglass, similar 3D displays have been made which utilize similar effects. Right now the team that developed this one haven’t made their code open yet, but have promised to release it soon so that others can build their own displays.

Thanks to [bmsleight] for the tip!

Corkscrew LASER “Hologram”

If you watch much science fiction, you know that in the future, there’re plenty of 3D holographic displays. From Princess Leah’s distress call to the Star Trek holodeck, there’s no shortage of computers that can make realistic images. It might not be up to holodeck standards, but [freedscript] created a 3D display for an Arduino using a chopstick, a motor, some paper, and a LASER. Of course, it isn’t actually a hologram, but neither is half the stuff you see on TV (Star Trek’s holographic characters were disturbingly solid for standing waves). The display is a type of volumetric display.

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How A Real 3D Display Works

There’s a new display technique that’s making the blog rounds, and like anything that seems like its torn from [George Lucas]’ cutting room floor, it’s getting a lot of attention. It’s a device that can display voxels in midair, forming low-resolution three-dimensional patterns without any screen, any fog machine, or any reflective medium. It’s really the closest thing to the projectors in a holodeck we’ve seen yet, leading a few people to ask how it’s done.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen something like this. A few years ago. a similar 3D display technology was demonstrated that used a green laser to display tens of thousands of voxels in a display medium. The same company used this technology to draw white voxels in air, without a smoke machine or anything else for the laser beam to reflect off of. We couldn’t grasp how this worked at the time, but with a little bit of research we can find the relevant documentation.

A system like this was first published in 2006, built upon earlier work that only displayed pixels on a 2D plane. The device worked by taking an infrared Nd:YAG laser, and focusing the beam to an extremely small point. At that point, the atmosphere heats up enough to turn into plasma and turns into a bright, if temporary, point of light. With the laser pulsing several hundred times a second, a picture can be built up with these small plasma bursts.


Moving a ball of plasma around in 2D space is rather easy; all you need are a few mirrors. To get a third dimension to projected 3D images, a lens mounted on a linear rail moves back and forth changing the focal length of the optics setup. It’s an extremely impressive optical setup, but simple enough to get the jist of.

Having a device that projects images with balls of plasma leads to another question: how safe is this thing? There’s no mention of how powerful the laser used in this device is, but in every picture of this projector, people are wearing goggles. In the videos – one is available below – there is something that is obviously missing once you notice it: sound. This projector is creating tiny balls of expanding air hundreds of times per second. We don’t know what it sounds like – or if you can hear it at all – but a constant buzz would limit its application as an advertising medium.

As with any state-of-the-art project where we kinda know how it works, there’s a good chance someone with experience in optics could put something like this together. A normal green laser pointer in a water medium would be much safer than an IR YAG laser, but other than that the door is wide open for a replication of this project.

Thanks [Sean] for sending this in.

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Bubble Displays Are Increasing In Resolution

PipeDreams 3 bubble display

[Bruce] has created a pretty cool bubble display that is capable of showing recognizable photographs of people. This entire art installation is no slouch at 3-stories tall! This one resides at the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, Canada. If you are unfamiliar with bubble displays, they consist of several clear vertical tubes filled with a liquid. A pneumatic solenoid valve mounted at the bottom of each tube allows a controlled amount of air to enter the tube at a very specific time. Since the air weighs less than the liquid, the air bubble travels up the tube of liquid. Interesting patterns can be made if these bubbles are timed correctly. This setup uses a Linux-based computer with custom control software to manipulate the valves.

[Bruce] didn’t start off making super-complex bubble displays. This is actually his 3rd go-around and with 96 individual tubes and capable of displaying raster images, it is the most complicated so far. His first creation consisted of 16 tubes, each larger in diameter than the most recent creation. With the larger diameter and less number of tubes came less resolution and the ability to only display simple shapes. Version 2 had twice as many tubes, 32 this time. In addition to doubling the tube quantity [Bruce] also colored the fluid in the tubes, not all the same color but all the colors of the rainbow, from red to violet. Still, this version could not show raster images. It appears to us that the third time’s the charm! Video after the break….

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