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Researchers Discover New Hologram Creation Technology
October 18, 2017

First developed in the 1940s, holography, a photographic technique that records the light scattered from an object and then reproduces it in a 3D format, has become almost commonplace in modern society. From entertainment, like Microsoft’s HoloLens that allow users to interact with 3D objects in an augmented reality, to medical applications, like Holoxica’s creation of digital 3D holograms of human organs, holograms are moving quickly from the realm of science fiction to useful reality.

University of Utah electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon shows off a new 2D hologram that can be displayed with just a flashlight. His team has discovered a way to create inexpensive full-color 2-D and 3-D holograms that are far more realistic, brighter and can be viewed at wider angles than current holograms. Credit: Dan Hixson/University of Utah College of Engineering.

Now, according to information provided by the University of Utah, a team of electrical and computer engineers, led by electrical and computer engineering associate professor Rajesh Menon, has discovered a way to create inexpensive full-color 2D and 3D holograms that are far more realistic, brighter and can be viewed at wider angles than current holograms.

The researchers say that the applications for this technology could be wide-ranging, from currency and identification badges to amusement rides and advertisements.

“You can have rich colors at high efficiency, with high brightness and at low cost. And you don’t need fancy lasers and complicated optics,” Prof. Menon said.

The team’s technology was profiled in a new paper, “Full Color, Large Area, Transmissive Holograms Enabled by Multi-Level Diffractive Optics,” published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Typically, the projection of any image, whether it is two or three dimensional, is inefficient because when white light shines on an object, we can only see the reflected color that bounces back to our eyes while the rest of the colors of the spectrum are absorbed. Therefore, there is a lot of wasted light.

Prof. Menon and his team have discovered a better way that borrows from the same principle behind how wings of certain butterflies display their colors: Instead of reflecting only the colors you see while absorbing the rest, all of the white light is redirected so you see the wavelengths of the wing’s colors at different locations. None of the light is absorbed and therefore wasted.

Using sophisticated algorithms and a new fabrication method, the engineers can create holograms that do the same thing — redirect colors to appropriate locations — instead of absorbing most of it to project much brighter photographic images either in 2D or 3D and with full, natural colors. Currently, full-color holograms require lasers to not only make them, but also to view them. Prof. Menon’s holograms can be viewed with regular white light. Most importantly, these holograms can be viewed from any angle, and the image detail does not change, much like a real object.

“Projecting an image before was very inefficient, and you need a massive lamp,” Prof. Menon explained. “Here, you can just do it with just a piece of plastic and a flashlight. It’s much simpler and more efficient this way.”

While Prof. Menon and his team have only produced 2D still images with their technology so far, he said it wouldn’t be difficult to take the next step to create full-color 3D moving images similar to the holographic chess pieces in “Star Wars.”

“Imagine going through a ride and you want a monster to jump out. This is a way to do that with much richer color, with higher efficiency and in a much more ubiquitous manner because it’s so cheap,” Prof. Menon said.

The technology can also be used to produce holographic photos or video for advertising for platforms like billboards or kiosks. According to Prof. Menon, moving 3D video could be possible in as little as two years, and his team is working toward that now.

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