25/01/2018 16:06 GMT

Engineers Create The First 3D Images That Can Hover In Thin Air

When can we ditch our TV?

Everyone remembers the iconic moment when Princess Leia was first unveiled in Star Wars as a shimmering spectre of projected light, or when Tony Stark revealed his high-tech workshop.

Yet if there’s one technology that has stayed firmly rooted in science-fiction it is the creation of 3D holograms.

While we’re still a few years from building our own supersuits, a team of engineers from Brigham Young University have made a remarkable breakthrough by creating a series of truly 3D images that float in thin air.

Brigham Young University

How does it work?

“We’re using a laser beam to trap a particle, and then we can steer the laser beam around to move the particle and create the image,” explains undergrad coauthor Erich Nygaard.

The image is not created instantly, rather it is built up at incredibly high-speeds, almost like a 3D printer that builds up a physical object.

“This display is like a 3D printer for light,” explains holography expert Daniel Smalley. “You’re actually printing an object in space with these little particles.”

While others have managed to create 3D images using light before, the team at Brigham Young are the first to have created colour images using different coloured lights.

The significance of this is simple, if we can create colour images, we can start scaling up to larger and larger projections.

Brigham Young University

Holograms aren’t what you think

Here’s something of an unfortunate truth which is that everything that you think is a hologram, isn’t actually a hologram.

All those moments in Hollywood films where an image miraculously appears out of thin air, are actually showcasing a technology called volumetric imaging.

Holograms on the other hand are when you scatter light across a 2D surface, so while it might give you the illusion of being three-dimensional you can’t actually walk around it.

Jose Manuel Ribeiro / Reuters
A hologram figure of virtual British group Gorillaz is projected on stage during their performance at the MTV Europe Music Awards 2005.