The hunt is on, to create a real-life Holodeck, and IDEO's designers just got a spin inside one of the leading offerings: The iCube, created by EON Reality. It is a room, measuring 10 feet by 10 feet by 10 feet, that has stereoscopic images projected onto three walls and the floor, care of high-definition projectors. To experience it, you slip on headgear that displays the pictures in 3-D. As you walk around, IR sensors track your movement and the projections move with you. Here's a video of the assembly at work:
It looks ideally suited for gamers—imagine Halo in 3-D virtual reality!—but gaming applications haven't been tapped yet, due to cost. The iCube runs a cool $500,000, but VR "caves" can run into millions. Adapting graphics for 3-D projections is another, arduous task. So you'd basically have to be Sergey Brin to get one of these in your living room. Or you can wait, since processing and projector prices have already fallen tenfold since caves were first invented, several years ago. The real applications so far have been in marketing—designing virtual environments for trade shows and museums—and science.
As we wrote here, one of the leading practitioners in this field is JoAnn Kuchera-Morin. "Imagine if a team of physicists could stand inside an atom and watch and hear electrons spin," says Kuchera-Morin. "Imagine if a team of surgeons could fly into the brain and see tissues as landscapes and hear blood density as music." She and her team created the Allosphere, a three-story high metal sphere. Inside the sphere data—from MRI scans to models of a hydrogen atom—can be projected.
Armed with 3-D models of anything from chemical reactions to electron spin, scientists can literally step inside their data, allowing them to discern patterns they may have been overlooking. For example: Molecular scientists at the University of California are working with virtual reality engineers, to create life-sized, virtual models of protein folding. The idea is that with better physical intuition for the process, they'll be able to generate more profound insights.
The Holodeck is finally here—and surprise! It's really useful.