Japanese scientists have developed a touchable hologram. “Well, that’s crazy,” you might think. “Holograms are just projections.” Not anymore.

With the use of Femtosecond technology, the same technology that brought laser cataract surgery into the new millennium, researchers in Japan have developed a system that lets 3-D, virtual objects be manipulated by the human touch. The system, called Fairy Lights, fires high-frequency laser pulses that only last one millionth of a billionth of a second.

Five researchers from different Japanese universities collaborated on the project, which was designed to improve upon three-dimensional hologram technology. Although the technology to produce touchable holograms isn’t new, the previous lasers used to project the images were harmful to human skin. With the addition of Femtosecond laser technology, the pulses are responsive to human touch, creating holograms that can be manipulated and are harmless.

Since the projections are responsive to human touch, the possibilities for using this technology are many. Dr. Yoichi Ochiai of Tsukuba University, one of the project’s lead researchers, believes that touchable technology could be a game-changer for several industries. With further development, this technology could be used to build a computer keyboard that projects up from someone’s lap, or create the ability to touch someone you’re having a conversation with via holographic video chat.

Dr. Ochiai also believes that the hologram technology could see widespread use in industries like medicine, architecture and entertainment. These and other developments can be achieved through the use of volumetric displays, which project images in space rather than on a flat surface.

Engineering

This technology could enable advances for engineers in the electrical, water, HVAC and construction fields. Further development could mean a lot for construction industry apps and online tools as well. If the current technology is enhanced to project blueprints from a mobile device or computer, contractors, engineers and architects would be able to easily manipulate building plans using just their hands and a mobile device.

Medicine

For doctors, touchable hologram technology could mean medical advances the likes of which we’ve only yet seen in science-fiction films. With the ability to project a 3-D image of someone’s body through something like a fiber-optic camera, medical practitioners can better plan surgeries. Alternatively, they would be able to get more in-depth to a certain body part, better diagnosing something that may be difficult to see on a two-dimensional screen.

Entertainment

Touchable hologram technology could revolutionize the way we spend our free time. Imagine sitting down to play a video game, but instead of seeing it on your television screen, you’d actually be inside the game. You’d be able to navigate the routes, build your own realm and truly be involved in your favorite games for the first time. What about the movies? Touchable hologram technology could take virtual reality to a whole new level. Instead of watching a movie go by, you could interact with the settings, characters and events. You could also tune into a concert’s livestream, where you can feel like you’re in the stadium with your favorite artists.

Dr. Ochiai and his colleagues recently presented their research at a conference in Los Angeles. The co-researchers on the project were Kota Kumagai, Satoshi Hasegawa and Yoshio Hayasaki from Utsunomiya University, Takayuki Hoshi from the Nagoya Institute of Technology and Jun Rekimoto from The University of Tokyo.

Holograms aren’t a new development. Michael Jackson and Tupac have both made post-mortem comebacks in the form of holograms. However, touchable hologram technology is still in its infancy. It will likely be several years before we see the kind of advancements that Dr. Ochiai envisions.

Image by Kaboompics