How holograms are about to change the world

Within 10 years, DJs will be replaced by them, we’ll use them to speak to one another, and they might even take our jobs. What does the near future hold for holograms?

Holograms have the power to resurrect the dead. Want to see Michael Jackson live in concert? Digital technology can bring him back to life, if not necessarily un-cancel him. Never got around to watching Whitney Houston perform? Travel to Sheffield and see her onstage, singing her greatest hits and dancing more enthusiastically than she ever did while alive.

This is the hologram’s glittering promise, as spun by a live music industry ever-keen to prise more money from the hot clammy hands of fans eager to clasp the cold dead ones of their heroes and heroines. But in the coming years the power of holography – which gets its name from the Greek words for whole” and drawing” – won’t be confined to the simple act of offering rock’n’roll life” after death. The technology’s potential is only just beginning to be realised, and it may well transform multiple aspects of our lives. 

Professor Sriram Subramanian and his colleagues at the University of Sussex have just produced what they claim to be the world’s first tactile hologram. Produced using ultrasound waves, it means we can touch” it: your hand vibrates, or feels hot, or as though raindrops were falling on it, all through the targeted vibration of your palm using ultrasound. 

It gives you a sense of immersion,” says Subramanian of an application that feels purpose-made for advertising – alongside a bog-standard” LCD display for, say, a new film, there could be an all-singing, all-dancing hologram designed using his team’s principles.

Professor Subramanian also explains the radical potential for use in museums and galleries. By the end of 2020 he hopes to be able to debut a (literally) talking heads installation. 

Imagine the hologrammed bust of a famous musician. As you pass, it sings out to you. Just as you’ve registered this fact, you reach another famous head and this starts singing to you, too. Only the person standing in front of each head is able to hear the sound being broadcast. This effect, achievable through the academic and his team’s acoustic holograms”, would be possible even without headsets. 

  • Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?”  Are holograms going to change every industry?” 

Similarly, at Shanghai Museum, Subramanian adds, they hope to use holograms to allow visitors to interact with objects, creating a more immersive experience. In fact, within the last month, Buenos Aires Holocaust Museum started using interactive holograms of concentration camp survivors. 

This latter innovation” only underlines the fact that any squeamish feelings about poor Whitney being resurrected is at the milder end of the issues of taste and decency raised by holographic technology. Recently a South Korean mother was controversially reunited” with her dead daughter in virtual reality in a documentary about grief. There have been concerns about whether this experiment featured enough input from psychologists and sufficient therapeutic components. As one piece points out, the deceased daughter obviously had no option to consent to the experiment, one which was broadcast on network TV.

But it’s in the world of live music that holograms have grabbed the most headlines. Celine Dion first performed with a hologram Elvis Presley in 2009, and in 2012 Tupac Shakur appeared in hologram form at Coachella, greeting the crowds with: What the fuck is up, Coachellaaa?” Eight years on, the field is rapidly evolving. Roy Orbison, who died in 1988, was resurrected for his In Dreams tour in 2018. It was so successful that a year later Orbison was joined by Buddy Holly, who died in 1959, for the joint Rock’n’Roll Dream Tour.

Then there’s those holo-stars who never physically existed in the first place. Hatsune Miku is a Vocaloid software voicebank” made by Japan’s Crypton Future Media. She has 160,000 Twitter followers and was scheduled to perform at this year’s Coachella. 

An anime character with a short skirt and long teal hair, Miku has the advantage of not needing to physically travel to Coachella. As music executive Siraji Thomas points out in this piece on the trend, concerns about performers contributing to climate change by flying back and forth to international festivals could be allayed by the introduction of holographic DJs. 

  • It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.”  It gives you a sense of immersion.” 

In other fields, other forms of holography are coming to the fore to create the potential for clearer, more vivid images. Professor Junsuk Rho of South Korea’s Pohang University of Science and Technology has been working on groundbreaking meta-holograms. These are minute, ultra-light devices that generate holograms and can be easily integrated into electronic equipment. When I ask Professor Rho what inspired him to carry out the work, he talks about the fact that in Iron Man Tony Stark interacts in his studio with holograms which include a floating holographic keyboard. Rho dreamed of turning science fiction into reality.

As for these holograms’ application, he gives the example of an autonomous car. A tiny holographic device could be installed in the car’s headlamp and, when it uses LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) to spot a pedestrian, it projects a holographic crossing” image onto the road that warns a pedestrian that a car is coming. 

They could be used in the entertainment world. In his opinion the resolution of the holograms in a show like Wings of Time – a Singapore light show featuring holograms, lasers and fireworks – is still not good: the holograms rely on lots of light and use water as their background. However, if metasurfaces-based holograms work, Rho claims that they should be able to produce higher-resolution, more realistic pictures that could one day be used in live performances.

Other types of live appearance could soon be revolutionised by holograms. They are already making an appearance in universities in the form of guest lecturers. Bruce Dell is CEO of Euclideon, a leading Australian producer of holographic devices. When he was too busy recently to give a presentation in Beijing, he sent a hologram of himself instead. 

In that case, his presentation was recorded in advance, but it is possible to appear in live holographic form to an audience in another country. It just means that enormous amounts of information have to be channelled through an internet connection. Dell designed his hologram in such a way so that for every person in the audience, it appeared as if he was looking into their eyes. 

I like to say holograms are more caring,” he tells me, because everyone thinks in that room that the hologram’s looking directly at them.”

In the coming months Euclideon will unveil a technology which Dell insists will eclipse that used for events like the Whitney Houston tour. In order to showcase it, they won’t project images of people – because people are fairly flat anyway, particularly if you’re far away from them” – but will use an object like an aeroplane, where the three-dimensionality can be fully appreciated by a crowd. These holograms will be several metres deep, he says.

Dell asks me to imagine him onstage giving a presentation about a new mobile phone. I have a big hologram of that mobile phone spinning around and everyone can see it. And maybe the phone opens up and shows all the different parts inside.” 

Then the hologram of the mobile phone could fly into the audience with a wave of his hand, so that everyone was holding their own personal copy. Crucially, he says, each person would only see one phone. It’s not like if you looked around that room you’d see a million mobile phones. You only see your copy there in front of you.”

And the pace of innovation is only heating up. James Watson, chief marketing officer at VR company Immerse, predicts that in 10 to 15 years the technology will be so good that the deceased daughter in the South Korean documentary will be able to answer any imaginable question posed of her”.

Sooner than that, perhaps in three or four years, volumetric capture – in which every angle of a person’s body can be digitally captured – will be so sophisticated that the individual can be filmed and dropped into a VR environment as the perfect representation of themselves. This, Watson says, is how you could make someone live forever.

People say: Are holograms going to change every industry?’” relates Bruce Dell. No, they’re not. Hairdressers and bakers will see little difference.” But certainly holographic technology will continue to affect plenty of other professional fields.

Medicine is one: a surgeon will have far greater comprehension of a problem if they can study in advance a hologram of the person they’re about to operate on. Another is architecture: imagine someone looking to build a shopping mall and sell 50 per cent of it pre-construction. They can upload their CAD (computer-aided design) to a hologram room and walk the prospective store-owners around it, giving them a convincing impression of how the finished building will look and feel.

Still another implication, says Dell, is that a holographic worker could take your job. There are so many jobs that humans do where they don’t need to interact with the real world,” he says.

In the next few months Euclideon will debut holographic workers in their own holographic entertainment centres. At a hotel reception a holographic worker could process your payment; at a shopping centre a holographic worker could tell you where the bathroom is. And if they appear blue, don’t think it’s because their sense of customer-care errs on the frosty side. These characters will be blue because, Dell says, people are used to Princess Leia’s hologram having been blue in Star Wars.

As the subtitle of that 1977 vision of the future had it, in technology, medicine and industry, holograms could offer a new hope. And while we wait, an opportunity to see your favourite dead rock star strutting their stuff onstage is bound to come along soon.

Still, some memories are more sacred than others. So, please can the Amy Winehouse hologram tour that was planned for 2019 be permanently postponed? Too soon but also, more importantly, too crass.


Loading...
00:00 / 00:00