Science Faction: Holodecks


Science Faction: Holodecks
Are we all going on a Summer Holodeck?

No, we’re not.
Because, comparatively speaking, the technology is in its infancy. But of all the subjects examined to date in this feature series, the myriad uses of Holography is one area in which we humans are doing quite well.

True, we cannot generate an impossibly detailed replica of a 1950’s ballroom, filled with dancing mobsters sufficient to lure in a couple of Borg drones before riddling them with holographic lead (Yes, that is a First Contact reference...) but on the whole we’re doing alright.

Don’t believe me, just take a gander at the Wiimote on your coffee table, Kinect above your telly or the ‘Holographic’ borders on your nearest Android 3.0 device...

What We Want: Holodecks!

Even as you read this you’re probably scrolling with a mouse, pinching a capacitive touchscreen or turning a sheet of paper twixt thumb and forefinger.

What is this, the Dark Ages?!
Well, you can only imagine how I felt writing it, fingers clumsily raining down upon cheap plastic keys, praying less for the desired result and more that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart or suddenly set itself aflame.

So primitive...
You think Tony Stark puts up with this nonsense? Hells no! He’s busy designing his ridiculously well-armed super-suit while holed up in a fortress of rainbow geometries and impossibly responsive holograms.

One of science fiction’s newer fantasies, advanced holographic interfaces have steadily replaced the beeps and blinks of intelligible dials that once captured young imaginations.

The idea of bending light to our will enjoys numerous manifestations in popular culture. From the hard light materializations on the Enterprise’s Holodeck or Red Dwarf’s Arnold Rimmer, to the emerald constructs willed forth by Ryan Reynold’s power-ring in last summer’s festival of suck, Green Lantern, manipulating ambient light to a more personalised function is a prevailing theme in both Science Fact and Fiction.

The games industry has proffered some interesting schematics in this regard.
Dead Space’s Heads Up Display was rendered wholly via Isaac’s UI, triggering mission markers, ammo count, objectives and suit functions by swiping thin air. Similarly Rocksteady’s infamous Detective mode renders an augmented reality over the streets of Gotham, highlighting points of interest, tagging armed assailants, interpreting radio waves and isolating chemical compounds.

Mass Effect may have delved deepest into the concept of manoeuvrable light, with Sheppard’s Omni-Tool/Blade/Armour/Whacker trapping light in localized mass effect fields, fixing particles into specific structures and rendering photosensitive inputs.

Admittedly, technological advancement in this area stems from a deep-set need to own a futuristic glowing orange gauntlet which sporadically appears about one’s forearm. But there are certain practical benefits to a Holographic interface.
These include, hygiene, sterility, an immunity to shock, dirt moisture or hard use degradation, their accessibility to the physically infirm, and customisation to individual users.

What We Got: Natural User Interfaces!

It’s not all bad though. There are a wealth of Natural (NUI) and Holographic (HUI) Interfaces available to the paying public, with only cost of production and nostalgia staggering mass implementation over tactile inputs.

These holo-projectors can generate 3D imagery, scalable, interchangeable and in an infinity of configurations. Image interaction is registered via sensors in the projector itself, and not actually through direct hologram manipulation. Said sensors record the precise location of the user's fingers/hand/elbow/foot, triggering a programmed response.

Sounds complicated.

It’s a lightswitch!


This tech company specialises in human-machine interfaces. Their infrared sensors detect digits intruding upon UI imagery, identify the selected command and transmit the selection to the equipment’s internal software. So, not too dissimilar to the traditional method of depressing an ordinary key.
Only without the key.

Or the effort required to push it!

HoloTouch customized Interfaces provide output to USB, serial and other PC ports and relay output to other devices such as PLCs. HoloTouch technology enables users to intuitively enter commands into a wider range of electronic equipment by simply passing a finger through holographic images floating conveniently in mid-air.

IO2’s Heliodisplay

This air based display uses a small amount of micro-air and moisture to generate two dimensional UIs. The projector is focused onto layers of air resulting in floating 2D displays.

Similar in principle to the rear projection cinema technique, while dark areas of the image might seem invisible, the rendered display, though hardly volumetric, can appear more realistic than on a projection screen. Oblique viewing angles necessary to avoid looking directly at the Heliodisplay’s light source can prove inconvenient.

In late 2007, IO2 Technology debuted their two larger models, the M50 and M100. The former has a 50" diagonal image, equivalent to displaying a life-sized head-and-shoulders while the M100 has a diagonal image of 100”, comparable in size to a 6’6” human on display.

Microsoft Kinect

The Guinness Book of World Records’ “Fastest Selling Consumer Electronics Device” at time of launch (moving an average of 133,333 units per day to create 8million sold units in 60 days) Microsoft’s Kinect may be the most recognisable NUI out there.

The Kinect’s horizontal sensor bar connects to a motorized pivot base to be positioned above or below the tellybox, or monitor, now that it has finally launched for Windows. From here the device’s RGB camera, depth sensor and multi-array microphone provide full-body 3D motion capture, facial and voice recognition.

Basically it sees you. And hears you.

In particular, Kinect’s microphone array allows the 360 to conduct acoustic source localization and ambient noise suppression, enabling headset free party chats.

Capable of tracking up to six individuals simultaneously, including two active platers, Kinect analyzes motion with feature extraction of 20 joints per player. Unfortunately, the number of detectable users is limited to the sensors field of vision.
Plus, there are no decent games for it. But we’ll skim right over that one...

The depth sensor is comprised of an infrared laser projector and monochrome CMOS sensor, capturing 3D video data under ambient light conditions. The depth sensor is also adjustable. Thus it can be calibrated for specific gameplay, physical environments and the presence of obstacles including furniture.

Science Faction: Holodecks on
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