“Help me Obi Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope”. - Princess Leia

In 1977, science fiction fans were treated to the very first Star Wars film. Years later, the series has branched off into comics, novels, more films, animation shows, and more. But back in ‘77 when Princess Leia spoke her very first words in the series, R2-D2, the robot relaying Leia’s three-dimensional recorded message, showed the world what the future of holograms could be.

Star Wars - OB1
Source: YouTube

A team of engineers at Brigham Young University, in Utah in the United States, have been working to make science fiction, science fact. Using the scene from Star Wars as an influence, the team started their ‘Princess Leia project’.

Using a phenomenon known as photopheresis, the engineers have manipulated unseen airborne particles with lasers to produce images in midair. The team has said the 3-D images are even more realistic than holograms.

They released a video to demonstrate their findings, and to give a sneak peak into the future of volumetric displays:

Historically holograms have been produced by using rotating or specially positioned glass displays with images projected onto them. Other methods have included using fog, mist, or dust on which to project 2D images - Disney has used these kinds of projection methods at their theme parks. But the Birgham University scholars have figured out a way to project 3D images onto thin air, making it significantly different to previous holography attempts.

Daniel Smalley, lead author of the photopheresis research, and an electrical and computer engineering professor, said that the new technique is tantamount to “printing something in space,” and then, “erasing it quickly.” The unseen specks are focused together by laser technology guided by mirrors.

The authors are ditching the ‘hologram’ name, due to its departure from holographic ideology and instead calling their invention the Optical Trap Display. They essentially trap particles and create a volumetric image in three-dimensional space.

100 years of research into these methods have been categorized as ‘volumetric display’ research. They have published their research in the Nature journal. The researchers fully intend getting this technology to market. In the report, they write:

“The reported prototypes use commercial hardware and have low cost relative to other free-space volumetric displays. We anticipate that the device can readily be scaled using parallelism and consider this platform to be a viable method for creating 3D images that share the same space as the user, as physical objects would.”

This means that the world is also closer to telepresence: much like the scene from Star Wars with Princess Leia, and a plethora of other science fiction novels and movies. We could soon see engineers perfect a ‘holographic’ Skype call – a bit like being in two places at one time.  A Star Wars future might, therefore, not be far off.


Works Cited

Matt WarrenJan. 24, 2018 , 1:00 PM, et al. “'Princess Leia' Holograms One Step Closer to Reality.” Science | AAAS, 24 Jan. 2018, www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/01/princess-leia-holograms-one-step-closer-reality.

Smalley, D. E., et al. “A Photophoretic-Trap Volumetric Display.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 24 Jan. 2018, www.nature.com/articles/nature25176.