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Scientists Invent Device to Tele-Transport 3-D Images

  • Jessica Berman

Refractable holographic image of an F-4 Phantom Jet created on a photorefractive polymer at the College of Optics, University of Arizona

Researchers have invented a system that creates holographic, three-dimensional images that may be viewed at another site.

Imagine seeing in 3-D without the aid of 3-D glasses, or being seen in a room in three-dimensions without being there. A system that makes it possible is the brainchild of optical scientists at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Lead researcher Nasser Peyghambarian says the machine could potentially transport a person's image over vast distances.

Peyghambarian says the technology uses holographic imaging, 3-D pictures that look real, transmitted to a remote location.

"So pretty much then, you do not have to travel," said Peyghambarian. "People can see you just the way you are as if you had been there."

In experiments with the system, researchers used 16 cameras arranged in a semi-circle, photographing their subjects from different perspectives.

The data then are transmitted via the Internet to another location. Peyghambarian says a laser system at the other end codes the information and makes a holograph on a new type of plastic material.

He says images are continuously written, erased and rewritten on the new material.

"Every image that you want to show only takes two seconds to write it," he said. "And therefore the next image comes in after that. And this capability allows this system to be used for, for example, telepresence - that an object in one location now can be [virtually] transferred or can be shown in another location in 3-D."

Peyghambrian says the images move very slowly. But he says as more cameras are added to take even more pictures of their subjects, the telepresence will look more natural.

"You can be walking around the room, ultimately, and we can send it from one location to another location," he said.

Peyghambrian says that will require the development of a plastic screen 182 centimeters in height or taller. The screen in the prototype device is a little more than 25 centimeters.

The University of Arizona scientist envisions a variety of applications for the telepresence system, including telemedicine, updatable 3-D maps and new visual entertainment - 3-D movies without bulky glasses.

If work continues as planned, optical scientist Nasser Peyghambarian and his team expect video telepresence to be available in three to five years.

An article describing the holographic telepresence system is published in the journal Nature.