We just took a major step towards 3D holograms on smartphones

18 May 2017

Image: HQuality/Shutterstock

A staple of science fiction is edging closer to reality with the unveiling of the world’s thinnest hologram, which could create 3D projections on smartphones and TVs.

Fans of Star Wars will remember the famous scene where Princess Leia sends a 3D projection of herself to Obi-Wan Kenobi; something that has since become futuristic technology prophesied in many science-fiction films.

Now, a team of researchers from Australia and China has achieved a major breakthrough that could make this concept both a reality, and scalable enough to be put into smartphones and smartwatches.

The team from RMIT University led by Prof Min Gu achieved this by developing a nano-hologram using a relatively simple process. Not only is it 1,000 times thinner than a human hair, it also requires no 3D glasses.

Until now, conventional holograms have modulated the phase of light, resulting in the illusion of three-dimensional depth. This equipment is bulky because, to generate enough phase shifts, those holograms need to be at the thickness of optical wavelengths.

Would make screen size irrelevant

Breaking this barrier, the RMIT team – in collaboration with the Beijing Institute of Technology – used a 25-nanometre hologram based on a topological insulator material.

This material acts as a resonator of sorts, thereby enhancing the phase shifts to create the thinnest hologram ever achieved.

“Integrating holography into everyday electronics would make screen size irrelevant – a pop-up 3D hologram can display a wealth of data that doesn’t neatly fit on a phone or watch,” said Gu.

“From medical diagnostics to education, data storage, defence and cybersecurity, 3D holography has the potential to transform a range of industries, and this research brings that revolution one critical step closer.”

The next step in the team’s research is to create a thin film that would allow the same hologram image to appear on large LCD screens, as well as whole range of surfaces.

The team’s research is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic