Touchable holograms designed to one day replicate Star Trek Holodecks

Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced millions of fans to the concept of a Holodeck. Not just a laser-etched room of shapes and colours, the Holodeck had complex AI-powered touchable holograms that looked, felt and acted real.

Since then, Star Trek's idealisation of realistic hologram technology has been the goal. While we have basic holograms today, holograms that can fool you into thinking they're real are still far away. Or are they?

University of Glasgow touchable holograms

Published on The Conversation, scientists at the University of Glasgow have been working on developing next-gen holograms. Powered by aerohaptics — jets of air are fired in multiple directions at different speeds or temperatures — can mimic the sense of touch.

Much like 4D experiences, the team hopes to combine sound, smell and more to create incredibly immersive experiences. At the moment, the team have created their prototypes out of “affordable, commercially available parts”.

For now, the holograms sit inside glass, mirrored cases. These cases are based on “19th-century illusion technique... Pepper’s Ghost”. The cases manipulate 2D images to look 3D and hover in the air. However, the scientists paired this tech with an array of sensors that can move the image into the right spot without breaking the illusion.

Unity, a video game engine, renders each hologram in a 3D space. With Unity, the sensors and the air jets, users can throw a hologram ball. In the future, someone could even possibly fetch with their hologram dad.

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The Holodeck dream

The team has already explained that they “don’t expect to be delivering a full Star Trek holodeck experience in the near future”. However, scientists are hoping the tech could create holodeck-esque environments one day.

Essentially, the touchable holograms currently create small “absorbing video game experiences”. Much like the dream of glasses-powered augmented reality experiences, room-scale holograms could be used for innovative, unique games.

Read More: The Roddenberry Estate is working to make life-sized Enterprise holograms

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