Holographic technology has been maturing rapidly in the past few years. The Star Trek holodeck, or Holographic Environment Simulator (HES) might not be too far into the future.
Holography is based on the principle of interference. Holograms capture the interference pattern between two or more beams of coherent laser light. A hologram is a photographic recording of a light field. This is used to display a three-dimensional image of the holographic subject.
Holograms can be seen without the aid of special glasses such as the ones used for 3D or the headsets for Virtual Reality. Holographic projectors use holograms instead of graphic images to produce projected pictures. In Star Wars (video below), R2D2 was used as a holographic projector to project the hologram of Princess Leia.
We could say that a hologram is a perfect combination of technology, science, and art.
Thanks to a combination of Virtual Reality (VR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), and the speed powered by 5G networks you can expect to experience holographic technology soon not only in the gaming industry but beyond. So, how all these technologies are evolving to integrate and complement each other? What role do they play in making the Star Trek holodeck a reality?
Holobot: Your new holographic home assistant
The race toward making the holodeck, a reality is on. For starters, some companies, such as China's Photonics Crystal, want to bring holograms --pretty much like the Star Wars hologram we just saw in the video above-- into your living room, or perhaps to the enterprise as a holographic receptionist who can welcome visitors and interact with them.
The company's Holobot is a rudimentary smart holographic digital assistant that can work well for both the smart home and the enterprise.
Holobot is something like Alexa, Google Assistant, or Siri-like Artificial Intelligence with a human-like form. The holographic robot is enabled by NanoVR. Once you have holograms you can start populating the holodeck.
Holographic technology and VR: Holodeck
Companies such as OTOY, a leading cloud graphics company, are working in going further toward making the holodeck a reality. RNDR, the Blockchain advancement of OTOY, is working to bring the power of light field rendering and network streaming to Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality experiences.
This technology has been used in the creation of film and TV properties like Star Wars and Westworld, as well as for the creation of Facebook's 6 Degrees of Freedom VR system.
RNDR wants to make the Star Trek holodeck a reality using holographic technology. For this, the company in partnership with Light Field Lab are aiming to deliver the industry's first end-to-end holographic content creation to display ecosystem.
Using Light Field Lab's revolutionary headgear-free holographic displays and OTOY's ORBX Technology, the companies expect to deliver the industry's first open source and royalty-free format for rendering media and real-time graphics.
Original holographic content is in active development, spearheaded by Ariel Emanuel, CEO of Endeavor, and Rod Roddenberry, CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment and Executive Producer of Star Trek: Discovery.
“The concept of the Holodeck was extremely important to my father as well as the Star Trek Universe,” says Rod Roddenberry about his late father, Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek.
“I want to see Star Trek’s technologies made real, and for the very first time, now believe that a real Holodeck is no longer limited to science fiction. Although it’s early days, my father would be beyond excited to know his vision is coming into reality," Rod Roddenberry says.
“OTOY has created the capture, rendering and streaming technology for the industry to transition to holographic content development, as well as the RNDR Blockchain for IP rights and distribution,” says Emanuel.
“We’re excited to use this platform to bring true holographic content to Light Field Lab’s displays, which will give consumers unbelievable experiences, without the burden of 3D glasses or VR headsets.”
Light Field Lab’s initial prototype modules will scale to form larger holographic video walls with hundreds of gigapixels of light field resolution setting the standard for fully immersive holographic experiences.
OTOY’s Blockchain GPU compute network (RNDR) will provide the scale to make rendering holographic content for these experiences widely available for the first time.
Light Field Lab started demonstrating holographic prototypes with OTOY-rendered content earlier this year to leading industry stakeholders including Endeavor, Roddenberry Entertainment, and Richard Kerris, former CTO of Lucasfilm and Advisor to OTOY.
“I see a lot of display technology marketed as 3D holograms,” says Kerris. “However, most of the things I see are actually just gimmicks. The holographic displays being developed by Light Field Lab, with OTOY’s 3D content, truly does have the potential to be the game changer we’ve been waiting for."
For Richard Kerris, the combination of breakthroughs in both rendering and display technologies could very well mark the beginning of a next-gen media revolution.
“Your eyes freely focus on holographic objects without the need to wear glasses to see the 3D. The experience is unlike anything I’ve experienced and gives me hope on seeing their vision of the holodeck eventually come true, Kerris says.
5G, AI, and raytracing laptops (RTX)
Technologies that have matured which are crucial for the development of AR/VR products, as well as blockchain, include 5G network technology, AI, and raytracing laptops (RTX).
With 5G, higher data throughout will enable low-latency immersive streaming experiences on thin clients which have been a major barrier for AR/VR. It could also enable low-latency mobile on-chain transactions that allow blockchain technology to become more ubiquitous.
In the laptop gaming space, 40 gaming laptops with RTX graphics cards were unveiled at this year's CES. Gaming laptops such as Samsung's Notebook Odyssey bring high-end computational power to more mass market form factors, increasing the surface area of high-end of distributed compute beyond traditional miners with servers or workstations.
Where is the VR/AR industry heading?
For Kalin Stoyanchev, an expert in complex graphics creation, Head of Blockchain at OTOY, and the Project Lead at RNDR, VR and AR mainstream adoption is still coming, although it's coming a little slowly.
"I believe that we are getting closer to real-time, ultra HD environments in both AR and VR. With the creation for new and more advanced computing hardware, it's only a matter of time before we are able to experience the true potential of this space," Kalin Stoyanchev tells Interesting Engineering.
"AR/VR and blockchain are seeing similar trends in their news cycles. For both technologies, the initial hype has faded because mainstream adoption has been slower than expected," he says.
"However, now is the time when developers are quietly at work on the next generation of these technologies, which promises for wider acceptance down the line."
The history of holographic technology in the Star Trek universe
"The holodeck has given us woodlands and ski slopes ... figures that fight ... and fictional characters with whom we can interact." - Jean-Luc Picard
Since the late 24th century, the Federation Starfleet ran holographic programs that were installed aboard starships, space stations, and at Starfleet institutions. They were used for entertainment, training, and also for investigative purposes.
The holodeck is used by a starship's crew for entertainment and recreation since they typically spend months or years on missions.
Yet, the holodeck can also be used to create training simulations and exercise environments. This may include starship battle simulations, physical, and combat simulations.
The holodeck can also be used as a holographic research lab or aid in a forensic investigation. It can be used to recreate a crime scene or visualize a 3D scene from alternate data sources for analysis. Or it can even be used as a brainstorming tool or to test a person's beliefs or motives by creating a program that can trick the person into revealing their real actions.
The future of the Star Trek holodeck is near
"The far-out idea of a holodeck is becoming more of a not-so-distant reality." - Kalin Stoyanchev, Project Lead, RNDR
In real life, a holodeck could be used pretty much for the same applications the Starfleet crew used the holodecks in the starships.
So, how far are humans in the 21st century from entering a real holodeck? "That's what we're working for here - to bring the holodeck and the technology that comes with it a reality, Kalin Stoyanchev tells Interesting Engineering.
"Again, with new technology and systems like RNDR that will decentralize and improve computer power across multiple industries, the far-out idea of a holodeck is becoming more of a not-so-distant reality," he says.
Judging for his words, his view, and how quickly the holographic technology is advancing we can only sit on our hands in excitement while mentally planning what kind of adventure we would like to experience in the holodeck.