Holograms Are (Maybe, Finally) Real: Light Field Labs' SolidLight
PC Magazine|November 2021
In front of me is a wristwatch. Somehow, it’s floating in the air. It’s shiny, spotless, and seemingly solid. Light reflects across the metal timepiece like it’s on display at a jewelry store, ready to be handled and bought. But then I get closer and try to touch the floating watch. My hand passes through it and feels only air.
MICHAEL KAN

In reality, I’m staring at a wave of light that’s converging and scattering in midair. A display behind the watch is simply beaming the light in a way my eyes can’t help but interpret as real. I’m staring at a hologram, the first of its kind, according to San Jose-based Light Field Lab. The watch is actually an image made up of 2.5 billion pixels. All those pixels are now in my line of sight, making me wonder: Did I just glimpse the future?

I won’t be alone in witnessing the technology, which is called SolidLight. Light Field Labs says it plans to debut the holographic displays as soon as next year. “We can show that this is real. We can start building this,” said CEO Jon Karafin.

USING LIGHT TO CREATE IMAGES IN MID-AIR

The word “hologram” may cause you to roll your eyes. Go to a technology trade show, a concert, or YouTube, and you can find plenty of 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 dupe your eyes into thinking a 2D image exists in 3D. Light Field Lab, on the other hand, says its SolidLight display technology involves no elaborate tricks. According to Karafin, the company harnesses the established principles of how our eyes see objects and replicates the same process with technology.

It reminds me of a scene in the sci-fi film The Matrix, in which the character Morpheus discusses how humans perceive reality. “If you’re talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then ‘real’ is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain,” he says.

You can apply the same statement to human eyes. What we see is simply photons bouncing off objects and being interpreted by our brains. Take a bird, for example. “You don’t see in the real world that wing of this bird,” Karafin said. “You see it because those photons will strike and interact with that finite point (the bird’s wing) and create a wavefront that your eye is able to focus on.”

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