Austrian engineers have created a laser-generated, 3D displays that don’t require glasses.
Concept art of 3D billboard. Image: TriLite.
When Marty McFly gets dropped off in 2015 in Back to the Future II, one of the first futuristic technologies he experiences is a 3D hologram shark advertising Jaws 19. Now, it turns out that lifelike 3D displays may actually come to fruition in the next year, just as Prophet Zemeckis promised.
A collaboration between the Austrian tech startup TriLite Technologies and the Vienna University of Technology has revealed that using tiny mirrors to reflect lasers in numerous directions can trick viewers into interpreting an image as three-dimensional.
"The mirror directs the laser beams across the field of vision, from left to right," explained UT Vienna computer engineer Ulrich Schmid in a statement. "During that movement the laser intensity is modulated so that different laser flashes are sent into different directions."
The upshot is that these mirrored 3D pixels, or "trixels" as the team calls them, could project hundreds of different images outward, as compared to the 3D movie technique, which only projects two, and requires that the viewer wear glasses. Walking around such a trixelated billboard, on the other hand, would make the image appear to be a highly resolved, three-dimensional object to the naked eye.
Goodbye, 3D glasses. Hello, ubiquitous, laser-generated images that jump out directly at you from every angle.
It actually gets a little creepier. According to a study authored by TriLite/UT Vienna team and published in Optics Express, a single electronic billboard could present multiple images, which could change depending on the angle it's viewed from.
"Maybe someone wants to appeal specifically to the customers leaving the shop across the street, and a different ad is shown to the people waiting at the bus stop", TriLite CEO Ferdinand Saint-Julien, said in a statement. "Technically, this would not be a problem."
So, if you think targeted online advertising is invasive, just wait until bus stops, train cars, and roadside billboards start spamming you with commercials based on your daily habits. I'd rather have the cheesy Jaws 19 shark following me around than that.
In the study, the team described their modest prototype version of their display, which has a trixel resolution of five by three. But the next prototype is already in the works, and the researchers are shooting to launch the display commercially as early as 2016.
As ingenious as the concept of trixelation is, it's discouraging to think of it solely as an advertising tool. After all, this approach could backfire in all kinds of unpredictable ways. Distracted driving has become a huge problem in the age of the Smartphone, and now we want to throw tailored, 3D ads up everywhere? It seems like a public safety nightmare, not to mention the obvious Orwellian dimension of targeting specific perspectives with different messages.
As Jason Koebler wrote a few weeks back, the brilliant television series Black Mirror is based on real, emerging technologies. And boy, would the show's writers have a field day with this one.
On the other hand, the display could also add a literal new dimension to entertainment. The inventors expect to make it compatible with movies, which would undeniably add an extra level of verisimilitude to the artform (not to mention what it could do for video games, television, or art installations). There's also the cool concept of have multiple people simultaneously watching different programs on the same device. No more remote control battles anymore.
One thing is for certain: this display's capabilities could fundamentally change our relationship with visual media. Whether that will end up being good, bad, or someone in between remains to be seen.