3D Holograms Coming to Your Smartphone Sooner Than You Think

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

3D Holograms Coming to Your Smartphone Sooner Than You Think

 Holograms
Ostendo Technologies Inc. has spent the past nine years quietly working on miniature projectors designed to emit crisp videos and glasses-free 3D images for smartphones and giant screens.




Imagine stepping into an empty room and then suddenly seeing life-size, 3D images of people and furniture. Or looking down at a smartwatch and seeing virtual objects float and bounce above the wrist, like the holographic Princess Leia beamed by R2-D2 in the movie Star Wars.

Ostendo Technologies Inc. has spent the past nine years quietly working on miniature projectors designed to emit crisp videos and glasses-free 3D images for smartphones and giant screens.

Other companies have shown they can project floating images that appear to be holograms, but many involve large machines employing a system of mirrors to direct light with limited viewing angles. For instance, the lifelike hologram of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, which graced the Coachella music festival stage in 2012, was a combination of computer graphics and video projection that relied on visual effects first designed in the 19th century.

Ostendo Quantum Photonic Imager
Ostendo's hologram-producing chip
Image Source - Sam Hodgson /The Wall Street Journal
Ostendo's projectors, in contrast, are tiny, powered by a computer chip that can control the color, brightness and angle of each beam of light across one million pixels.

One chipset, small enough to fit into a smartphone, is capable of projecting video on a surface with a 48-inch diagonal. A patchwork of chips, laid together, can form far larger and more complex images. The first iteration of the chip, which is scheduled to begin shipping next year, will only project 2D videos, but the next version, expected to follow soon after will feature holographic capability, according to Ostendo's chief executive and founder, Hussein S. El-Ghoroury.

"Display is the last frontier," said Dr. El-Ghoroury, who in 1998 sold CommQuest Technologies, a mobile chipset company, to IBM for about $250 million in cash and stock. "Over the years, processing power has improved and networks have more bandwidth, but what is missing is comparable advancement in display."

"Imagine if everything coming back to you was in 3D—all of your shopping, all of your gaming, every way you retrieve data," he said.

The race to disrupt the screen is intensifying as both upstarts and technology giants try to find new ways to bring content to life.

"Imagine if everything coming back to you was in 3D—all of your shopping, all of your gaming, every way you retrieve data."


Development in virtual reality is at a high now with Microsoft and AMD  are both working on their own VR rooms, building a complex system of projectors and computers. Hewlett-Packard  recently spun out a company called Leia, that like Ostendo, is trying to bring 3D imaging to smartphones. Meanwhile, Facebook recently acquired Oculus VR Inc., maker of the Oculus Rift headset that pulls users into 360-degree virtual environments.

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Ostendo is little-known but has raised $90 million from venture-capital firms and Peter Thiel, and has secured some $38 million in government research and development contracts. A large bulk of that has come from DARPA, the government's futurist agency that worked on the predecessor to the Internet and self-driving cars.

The long effort has yielded the Ostendo Quantum Photonic Imager, an appropriately sci-fi-sounding name, which fuses an image processor with a wafer containing micro light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, alongside software that helps the unit properly render images.

During a recent test reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, Ostendo showed a working prototype: a set of six chips laid together that beamed a 3-D image of green dice spinning in the air. The image and motion appeared consistent, irrespective of the position of the viewer.

Ostendo, which says it has several opportunities with major handset manufacturers, expects the first 2D projector unit to be in the hands of consumers before the summer of 2015. With a lens attached, it will be less than 0.5 cubic centimeters, roughly the size of the camera in the iPhone. It also expects to begin manufacturing the second version of the chip, with 3D capability, in the second half of 2015. The cost to the consumer should be about $30 a chip, Ostendo estimates.

Ultimately, the larger vision is to have Ostendo's chips everywhere electronic displays are needed, whether it is a glasses-free 3D television screen, a smartwatch, or tables that can project hologram-like images.


SOURCE  Wall Street Journal

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