Tech Watch: Holograms Being Used on CNN, in War, and In Your Living Room

While the effectiveness of CNN’s hologram technology on Election night is questionable, the American military attempt to successfully bring holographic soldiers to the battlefield. Also, JVC is bringing 3D technology to television, and LaCie bring us wireless storage.

On election night, CNN busted out its secret weapon over rivals Fox and MSNBC: a rather silly hologram that enabled reporter Jessica Yellin in Chicago to talk to Wolf Blitzer in New York. As Yellin explained, she was being observed by 35 HD camcorders in a special tent in Chicago, where her image was reconstituted by 20 computers into a 3D likeness. Only one problem: Blitzer couldn’t actually see her in the studio; she was a screen artifact only seen by viewers at home. Which isn’t a hologram, but rather, a special effect called a topogram. Sadly, it seems, holograms are still the stuff of tech lore. At least, in the civilian realm.


According to DoDBuzz, however, the United States Army is pursing a quantum physics project that will allow commanders to put holographic soldiers on the field to confuse or intimidate enemies. They’re attempting to do it by harnessing a highly technical phenomenon called “quantum ghost imaging,” which allows images to be created by using photons that don’t bounce off objects, but instead bounce off other photons, which have themselves bounced off objects. (Got that?) The effect is a “ghost” image of the object reflecting the second set of photons. Harnessing ghost imaging would allow the army to gin up images of people or vehicles on clouds of ambient smoke from a removed distance. The Army’s science and technology office is also working on developing interactive holograms of soldiers with low-level human intelligence, realistic dialogue and emotional expressiveness — essentially making possible entire working units of faux personnel and equipment that look, move and even sound like the real thing.

As is often the case, consumer technology seems to be mimicking the pursuits of the military and entertainment industries, and a new home projector from JVC is the latest token of the trend. The company announced an industry first Wednesday: a 3D projector intended for home theaters that requires no special glasses or screens to view its effects. The DLA-RS2 uses something called D-ILA projection, which is akin to LCD projection, to produce stereoscopic video in 1080p high definition.

There aren’t many details about the DLA-RS2 as of this week, but rumors say the device will use Sensio 3D technology to process its 3D images in a relatively unimpressive contrast ratio of 30,000:1 (though, who can think about contrast ratios when the image in front of them is in a mind-boggling three dimensions?)

Of course, the DLA-RS2 seems a lot less promising when you consider that to see a 3D projected image, you need to be viewing special film shot in 3D — and that kind of material is pretty uncommon. The DLA-RS2 will also be able to display regular 2D content from traditional DVD or Blu-ray players, however, and should be available in 2009 for any gun-jumping early adopters.

Even if the 3D imaging of the future is still only tenuously within consumer reach, either on TV or at home, at least there are still inspiring tangible objects being introduced to market. Case in point: LaCie’ s new “Internet Space,” a wireless backup drive conceived as a glossy, monolithic slab in a choice of black or white. It doesn’t set any records for capacity, coming in either 500GB or 1TB versions, and comes only with LaCie’s usual backup and media syncing software, but it does allow network content-sharing with either Microsoft Windows or Apple OS X computers. It’s also accessible via FTP when you’re out and about, and costs a reasonable $150 or $220 for the 500GB and 1TB versions, respectively. The Neil Poulton-designed enclosure might just give you a new appreciation of real, existing objects that Wolf Blitzer can actually see.

About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.