US researchers say they figured out how to create real images that move in the air

Inspired by iconic laser screens from sci-fi movies, such as Star Trek and Star wars, American researchers have discovered how to create real images that move through the air. And the results are really out of this world. They used lasers and a tiny particle floating freely in the air to create digital images that can be viewed without the need for a special helmet or smartphone. Even if we look at these three dimensional images from any angle, we can see them existing in this space, which means they are physical.

Led by Dan Smalley, professor of electrical engineering at Brigham Young University (BYU), researchers at the University of Utah used laser beams to trap and illuminate a tiny particle in the air. They then moved the beam, dragging the particle with it, to draw a picture in the air.

In an approximately four-minute YouTube video, Smalley shows an augmented reality battle between a tiny version of the USS Enterprise, a US Navy aircraft carrier, and a “Star Trek” Klingon Warbird, using new technology.

Smalley said most 3D displays require a person to look at a screen, but the technology he and his team members have developed allows them to create images floating in space. “What you see in the scenes we create is real; there is nothing computer generated about them ”, a BYU Blog quoted Smalley as saying.

Smalley and his team gained national and international attention three years ago for discovering how to draw screenless floating objects in space. This technology has been called “optical trap displays”. The researchers then spent three more years improving their OTD technology to include actual animations produced in the air.

The research, funded by a CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation, was first published in the Nature science report newspaper. And the full body of Smalley’s work can be viewed on the website of the BYU Electro Holography Group.

According to the researchers, the development may pave the way for an immersive experience and interaction with virtual objects that coexist in their immediate space.

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