Japanese scientists create touchable holograms

A group of Japanese scientists have created touchable holograms, three dimensional virtual objects that can be manipulated by human hand.

Using femtosecond laser technology the researchers developed ‘Fairy Lights, a system that can fire high frequency laser pulses that last one millionth of one billionth of a second.

The pulses respond to human touch, so that - when interrupted - the hologram’s pixels can be manipulated in mid-air.

The touchable hologram, which is being experimented with at the Utsunomiya University Center for Optical Research and Education, uses a laser provided by the university to the researchers.

One of the leading researchers of the experiment, Dr Yoichi Ochiai of Tsukuba University, believes this technology could be used for purposes including entertainment, medicine, and architecture. He says that the current state of light technology doesn’t allow humans to proactively interact and feel light as matter, but the ‘touchable hologram’ has the potential to change that.

“You can’t actually feel the videos or pictures, and although you can project a video, you can’t interact with it by touching it. So, if we can project an image in a three dimensional form, and if you can touch it, then you can make something where you’ll think that there actually is something there,” Ochiai said.

“People’s daily lives would change if we use a bigger laser in a bigger space where people can interact with it, and to see how it can be used in situations where three dimensional communication is necessary such as a construction site or in the medical field,” he added.

According to science website Pulse Headlines, further development might eventually make it possible to create a computer keyboard made of light beamed onto a person’s lap or allow video chat users to experience the virtual touch of the person with whom they are communicating.

The website says that the technology to create touchable holograms has previously been demonstrated, but that laser beams used to generate them burned human skin.

Ochiai’s fellow researchers are Kota Kumagai, Satoshi Hasegawa, and Yoshio Hayasaki from Utsunomiya University, Takayuki Hoshi from the Nagoya Institute of Technology, and Jun Rekimoto from The University of Tokyo.