Holograms bring 3-D ‘presence’ to internet with cutting edge tech
Little known innovative startups leading the way to immersive VR as Facebook plays catch-up with ‘metaverse’
It was once the province of science fiction — projecting human beings from one place to another without any physical presence.
It’s almost a cliché, but as with so many other things in our technological age, science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact.
“Capt. Kirk” from “Star Trek” just took his first real trip to space at age 90. Now the “Holodeck” from the same series seems closer than ever to becoming a reality.
With all the ballyhoo, many thought Facebook was on the cutting edge when it announced its plans for a “metaverse” – its multi-billion dollar gamble to use its proprietary “Oculus” virtual reality tech to bring a three-dimensional experience to internet users.
It turns out that Facebook is just following many lesser-known innovators who have already seen the future: a three dimensional internet projected by holograms.
This is brand new! Just a few weeks ago two major tech news outlets brought us the breakthrough news.
The online tech site CNET reported Oct. 7 in Holograms get real: Startup creates objects out of light and thin air
“No longer relegated to science fiction, holodeck-style creations from Silicon Valley company Light Field Lab are here today. Holograms,” CNET reported.
“Practically every sci-fi movie and TV show from the last 50 years has some version of this futuristic technology. A realistic 3-D object composed of nothing more than light, usually hovering over a table or interacting with our heroes, just screams ‘This is the future!’
“A startup called Light Field Lab has started production on a technology it calls SolidLight, which is designed to produce real-life holograms.”
When we think of “holograms,” it is something that seems to appear in space, just like a real object would. Not something confined inside a tiny phone screen, only viewable from a narrow angle.
According to its website, this is what Light Field Lab is promising: Light is Our Medium, Space is Our Canvas
“Imagine one day being able to replace physical objects with nothing but light - a world where digital objects escape the screen and integrate seamlessly with reality,” it proclaims.
Apparently that day has arrived.
“Light Field Lab is redefining what’s perceived as real to disrupt a world consumed by flat images, technology previously thought limited to science fiction - but real today.
“SolidLight is unlike anything you’ve experienced before. This is beyond holograms.”
A visit to its website will reveal some stunning video explanations of how the technology works. “Flat display technologies can never recreate this visual experience,” one video claims.
In a clear dig at Facebook's “Oculus,” another video screen claims: “Infusing real objects into digital technologies untethered to headgear creates a massive paradigm shift in how we experience, communicate and consume media.”
The videos are truly awesome, although they’re a bit hyperbolic.
In its more nerdy explanation, it says:
“SolidLight is the next generation of display combining unprecedented resolution and density to accurately project dimensional wavefronts to form objects that escape the screen and merge with reality.”
The public relations blitz got a boost on the same day from no less an authority than PC Magazine in the article Holograms Are (Maybe, Finally) Real
“The word hologram may cause you to roll your eyes. Go to a technology trade show, music concert, or YouTube, and you can find plenty of other holograms. But they usually have a major limitation.
“The hologram may be contained in a glass box, rely on fan blades embedded with LEDs, or simply use giant mirrors to reflect a ghostly image on a thin polyester screen.”
These approaches essentially try to fool the eyes into thinking a 2-D image exists in three dimensions. Light Field Lab, on the other hand, says its SolidLight display technology involves no elaborate tricks.
“According to CEO Jon Karafin, the San Jose, CA-based company harnesses the established principles of how our eyes see objects – and replicates the same process with technology.”
His firm says it’s hardware and software emits photons and re-orders them to create images – even though the object itself isn't there.
“That’s essentially what Light Field Lab has achieved using today's display technology. The company has mastered how light can be beamed to recreate 3-D floating objects that appear like their real-life counterparts would.”
But Light Field Lab is not the only innovating start-up in the field of holograms. Another is combining its hologram tech with ultra-fast internet to transmit realistic 3-D images across the web.
This is the Toronto-based ARHT Media which already has several demonstration projects showing how it's holographic “presence” technology could work in the real world.
Its website HoloPresence Technology describes some of the ways its clients are already using its holographic internet software and hardware.
“When busy high-profile presenters can’t be there in person, bring them to your audience as live holograms and eliminate the challenges of time and distance.
“Showcase presenters and content in their most engaging form … creating a powerful connection with your audience.”
In an interview Oct. 24 on PBS NewsHour, ARHT CEO Larry O’Reilly explained how he was capturing and projecting his image to New York through an internet video and audio feed.
“I'm being captured on a 4K camera,” O’Reilly said. “My video, image and audio are being compressed and encrypted and sent to New York, where I'm being presented to you in 0.3 seconds or less.
“And I should be appearing life-sized and lifelike in 3-D. And that's what we call “creating presence.”
Watching from home it was very impressive indeed.
This holographic technology has a major advantage over what we've all become accustomed to with Zoom.
“What you don’t get [with Zoom] obviously is the body language,” O’Reilly said. All the cues that are nonverbal – more than 50 percent of communication is nonverbal – are omitted, he added.
“We can take people from different parts of the world and bring them on stage together where they can communicate with one another as if they're in the same place and then that can be streamed anywhere in the world.”
Right now, the cost is prohibitive but it is declining fast, O'Reilly said. Three years ago each presentation cost about $90,000; today it runs about $20,000.
ARHT has already entered into an arrangement with the shared office space company WeWork which promotes it on its website at HoloPresence at WeWork
“Dial up your event’s wow factor with HoloPresence at WeWork. This breakthrough technology uses a two-way live communication that connects guests with a 3-D holographic presenter anywhere in the world.
“HoloPresence at WeWork is the future of hybrid events. By capturing and beaming one or more remote presenters, speakers appear as 3-D holograms that have the ability to seamlessly engage with live audiences and each other.”
Which brings us back to Facebook and its planned “metaverse.”
CEO Mark Zuckerberg publicly revealed his plans in a July 22 podcast with Casey Newton on The Verge titled Mark in the metaverse.
“As June came to an end, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told his employees about an ambitious new initiative. The future of the company would go far beyond its current project of building a set of connected social apps and some hardware to support them. Instead, he said, Facebook would strive to build a maximalist, interconnected set of experiences straight out of sci-fi — a world known as the “metaverse.”
“[Y]ou can think about the metaverse as an embodied internet, where instead of just viewing content — you are in it,” Zuckerberg said. “And you feel present with other people as if you were in other places, having different experiences that you couldn’t necessarily do on a 2-D app or webpage, like dancing, for example, or different types of fitness.”
How about instead of just FaceTiming your wicked uncle Albert for Thanksgiving dinner, he could beam in and talk trash right at the dinner table? The possibilities are limitless, it seems – but not necessarily all desirable!
Facebook announced on an earnings call with investors this week that its augmented and virtual reality efforts will cost the company about $10 billion this year. Even for a multi-billion dollar company, that is more than small change!
But considering how far the 3-D holographic technology has already advanced, and that little-known startups are finding success in the niche, this raises the question of whether the tech giant is playing catch-up.
It would not be the first time. Faced with fierce competition, the company bought the photo-sharing site Instagram in 2012 and the most popular phone/messaging app in the world, WhatsApp, in 2014.
Amid the scrutiny it is facing from regulators right now, such a scenario of it devouring an already proven hologram startup is perhaps less likely than before.
But the jury is still out on how well its new venture will play out. Remember how dominant AOL was in the internet space two decades ago? Tech giants and those who put money into them would be wise to remember their history.