Anyone who has seen Star Wars envisions the future of visual displays as “holograms,” where 3D objects materialize out of light in thin air. However, anyone who has looked at a true hologram will likely have been disappointed at the reality.  Not only does the image not pop out in its full glorious 3-dimensions in front of you, but the object is typically only visible from a narrow range of angles. Researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) have developed a far more true-to-science-fiction display that is described as a “3D-printed light image.”

To circumvent the limitations of holograms, the BYU researchers describe in D.E. Smalley, et. al. a volumetric display that acts like a dynamic, light “etch-a-sketch.” They use a process called “photophoretic-trapping” by having a laser beam physically drag around an opaque particle. This particle is dragged through a secondary illumination that then scatters light and draws an image.  The human eye can only see changes to an image at a rate of 10 frames per second, so by dragging the cellulose particle rapidly enough, the eye sees the line of the particle’s path instead of its instantaneous location. Since the particle is also reflecting light from the illumination field as it traces out the 3D object, it is visible at almost all angles around it.

While the current technology can only convincingly trace out a small 3D image a few centimeters in size, this is an impressive step in the direction of producing visual displays of 3D objects that take up physical space in front of you.


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4 thoughts on “Help me “photophoretic-trap volumetric displays.” You’re our only hope.

    1. Sure! Rather than release and reap the commercial rewards from a world changing technology that is clearly 30-40 years ahead of the _current_ state of research today (so 50+ years ahead back then), that they were able to deploy 100 miles off the coast, from a submarine, while it was underwater, and convince a veteran fighter pilot that it was a real craft, not to mention track its movements to his, all synced up with a fake radar signal and move both in concert, all while the most of the world is still using dial up internet – yes, rather than release this absolutely world changing technology, all they actually do is deploy it to spook some of their own fighter pilots and then leak it 15 years later. If that’s not a crazy conspiracy theory, I don’t know what is.

    2. Tic-Tac UFO happened in 2004. I’d say not a chance, judging by the current state of this technology.

  1. Hello whoever reads this! My question is: can a photophoretic trap generator be put in the end of a wooden wizard’s staff (like a prop, obviously) to make a floating ball of light at the end of the staff? I think that would be super cool.

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