Conventional wisdom has long held that true hologram projectors — like the one R2-D2 uses to beam out a miniature Princess Leia — are squarely on the fiction side of science fiction, for now. The technology just isn’t there.
Or is it? According to a Wall Street Journal report, a startup called Ostendo Technologies has not only created a hologram projector chip, it’s made one small enough for smartphones. The Tic-Tac-sized chip should be ready for manufacturing next year.
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The Ostendo Quantum Photonic Imager combines an image processor with a wafer containing radically miniaturized light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The system can control the color, brightness and angle of more than a million individual beams of light.
During a demonstration, six Ostendo units laid together beamed a 3-D image of green dice “spinning in the air,” according to the Journal report: “The image and motion appeared consistent, irrespective of the position of the viewer.” You can see a (very) short video of the demo here.
Based in Carlsbad, Calif., Ostendo has kept a low profile, but evidently it’s quite the operation. The company has raised $90 million from venture-capital firms and $38 million on government research and development contracts. The money has allowed the lab — now at 115 employees — to work undisturbed on the project for nearly 10 years, WSJ reports.
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The newspaper ran the technology by MIT professor Ramesh Raskar, who said the key to the chip’s 3-D capability is its resolution. Ostendo’s system puts out 5,000 dots per square inch. Apple’s Retina display, by contrast, has about 300 dots per inch.
Early reports aren’t clear on how the chip manages the free-floating hologram effect in thin air. Previous hologram systems, like the famous virtual Tupac, still require some sort of 2-D projection surface, plus additional optical trickery. In any case, this definitely seems like something to keep an eye on.