What's going on here? That's the question I asked myself when I stepped into a darkened room midway through a Mitsubishi Electric live demonstration of a new technology it’s calling Aerial Display.
A woman appeared to be balancing a large, hovering, spectral cube on her palm. But then she stepped away and the cube remained hovering in space. She pushed her hand into it and was able to walk through it, yet the cube continued its floating act.
A holograph, maybe?
Not quite. Rather, Mitsubishi has come up with a relatively simple system to manipulate light to create images in the air.
The figure to be generated is first displayed on an LCD screen. The display is concealed so as not to spoil the illusion. Light from the screen is directed to a beam splitter, from which the resultant individual beams are transmitted to a retroreflector—an optical device used to bounce back the light in the direction and angle it came from.
The set up is carefully arranged so that a concentration of these bouncing light beams converges, as if by magic, to recreate in the air the image on the display. In the demonstration I saw, the floating cube measured 35in wide by 44in high (88cm by 112cm).
To help users of the technology line up the elements properly, the system employs an optical simulation program that lays out where the element should be placed in relation to each another to produce the optimum effect.
There's a little more to all this than meets the eye. Literally. Because those of us who do not live in haunted houses are unused to viewing hovering ghostly images in open spaces, the system has to provide us with some assistance.
In the demonstration, two projectors were used to display darker guide images on either side of the main image to give the eye—or rather the brain—some needed context. This addition doubled the overall length of space required to create the floating image to over 6 feet (2 meters), though Mitsubishi says different kinds of visual cues are possible, such as physical signs, walls or a mannequin pointing to the image.
The image demonstrated was simple and required a darkened area to make a visual impact, so clearly a lot more development work is necessary before the Aerial Display will be good enough to debut commercially. The digital signage business (a high-tech subset of the advertising industry) is an obvious market. According to market researcher ABIrearch, global revenues for this thriving industry are forecast to grow to $4.5 billion this year, up from $1.3 billion in 2010.
Another interesting application Mitsubishi is considering (inspired by Bat Man, no doubt) is displaying large images above a stadium or open-air concert, for instance.
A Mitsubishi engineer was confident enough to declare the technology would be ready in time for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. If that’s the case, you might just get to see it in action on TV should it be used during and above the Opening Ceremony!
This first appared on my Forbes blog site :http://www.forbes.com/sites/jboyd