“Star Trek: The Next Generation” has long been established as among scientists and inventors alike as one of the most influential television series. The original Star Trek series predicted flip-phones, and, much like its predecessor, TNG predicted tablet and voice interface computers, hyposprays, and a long list of other once seemingly impossible inventions that have since wormed their way into our everyday lives.
There are, however, a few Star Trek technologies that still seem a few centuries away: warp drives, transporters, and the holodeck are usually seen as good examples of far-flung tech we won’t be seeing anytime soon.
But that may now longer actually be the case when it comes to the holodeck.
Researchers at the University of Sussex have developed a new kind of animated hologram that isn’t only visible from certain angles, like today’s existing hologram technology, but rather appears to occupy a three-dimensional space right before your eyes. It gets even crazier than that though: these holograms can be heard, and under the right conditions, even felt.
The researchers were able to accomplish this by using an actual physical object (in this case, a lightweight polystyrene bead measuring two millimeters in diameter) that is levitated and manipulated in mid-air by two arrays of ultrasonic transducers that create sound waves. That motion, combined with projected RGB lights, creates the illusion of a three-dimensional image.
Obviously this technology is still a long way away from manifesting fictional Sherlock Holmes villains for you to square off against; but as a proof of concept this system is extremely promising.
Such a technology would have obvious defense implications: it could be used to create highly effective camouflage; to give the illusion of a military presence where there isn’t one; or for highly advanced video teleconferencing.
But the commercial uses, from marketing to consumer electronics, of three-dimensional holograms would be nearly endless. Taking the image off the two-dimensional screen and into the third dimension could change the very ways we consume media.
And then there’s the loftiest of hologram goals. A Star Trek style holodeck: an immersive fictional environment that’s nearly indescribable from reality to the user.
This technology could obviously be used for training and entertainment . But on that far off day when holodecks do become a reality, I posit that they will likely be among the last inventions mankind ever creates. Once we have the means to enter into a holographic world of our own design, we will likely lose a lot of our humanity within it.
People already lead largely digital (and arguably fictional) lives through social media and online games — a holodeck would give us the opportunity to lead the exact life we want to lead, free from failure, embarrassment, and social limitation.
Once you can buy that, saving up for a new Carrolla probably won’t seem quite as important anymore.